PG&E left tree debris causing 'fire hazard' for hundreds of Bay Area homeowners, supervisor says

Tree debris was left laying around high-risk neighborhoods across Napa and Sonoma counties

Stephanie Sierra Image
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
PG&E left 'fire hazard' for some North Bay homeowners: supervisor
There's heightened concern in Napa and Sonoma counties about fire season because of a long-standing problem left behind from a fire two years ago.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There's heightened concern in Napa and Sonoma counties about this fire season because of a long-standing problem left behind from a fire two years ago.

A potential 'fire hazard'

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company has left tree debris laying around high-risk neighborhoods across Napa and Sonoma counties -- a potential hazard that has been littering some properties for more than a year.

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"Why they were never removed way back when? I don't know," said Napa County resident Brian Yates, staring at a pile logs surrounding his property in Deer Park.

Meet Brian Yates

Yates lost his home of 33 years in the 2020 Glass Fire. After the fire, PG&E and contract vegetation crews worked to restore power, which included cutting down hazardous trees that posed a potential safety risk to work crews and electric equipment.

Stephanie Sierra: "You can tell the trees are from PG&E because they've marked them?"

Yates: "Yes, the green is PG&E - that's their responsibility."

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Yates says he signed a form allowing the utility company's Vegetation Management Department to enter his property to remove the tree debris cut down in 2020 - but nearly two years later the job has yet to be completed.

According to Yates and the document he sent PG&E, there are at least 40 tree logs between 10 to 60 feet long scattered around his property.

And it turns out - he's not alone.

"There are hundreds properties where there are trees," said Napa County supervisor Diane Dillon. "They told us that they cut down 18,000 trees in Napa County and another 10,000 in Sonoma County."

Dillon represents District 3, which includes Yates' neighborhood and most of the Glass Fire burn scar. She says she's been urging PG&E to pick up the trees over the past year -- contacting the utility company directly dozens of times.

"I appreciate PG&E's stated good intentions but actions speak louder than words," said Dillon.

According to Dillon, the president of the California Public Utilities Commission or CPUC wrote PG&E a letter requiring the trees be picked up in August of 2021.

"They have still not completed the job," Dillon said.

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The ABC7 News I-Team reached out to PG&E with questions as to why this process has taken so long and how much work has been completed. The company was unavailable for an interview and didn't answer those questions. However, we were sent the following statement:

"In response to customer and community requests, PG&E listened and is dispatching crews to gather wood that was cut down during the 2020 and 2021 wildfires. After the fires, PG&E crews and contract vegetation management crews worked to restore power safely and quickly to customers. This included inspecting and cutting down hazardous trees that posed a potential safety risk to work crews or electric equipment. This work was done in coordination with CAL FIRE and other agencies responding to the wildfires. Since 2021, crews have been returning to those sites and disposing of the large-diameter wood that PG&E cut down for safety following the 2020 and 2021 wildfires (if safely accessible and approved by the property owner). We thank our customers for their patience as we conduct this important work in all the fire footprints from the 2020 and 2021 wildfires."

After repeated pressure from Dillon, Yates says PG&E agreed to finish the job by next month -- a promise he says he's been told four times before.

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"I'm not holding my breath," said Yates. "I can't even rebuild my home... we've already had two major fires."

Ongoing fire risk

CAL FIRE Unit Chief Mike Marcucci says the current fire risk for Napa County is a 7 out of 10.

"A very strong 7 heading to 10... what we've noticed especially in Napa and Sonoma County the landscape has changed," Marcucci said. "I hope PG&E will take care of that."

Marcucci says 90% of fires are human caused and warns everyone should be extra careful given how dry conditions are this early in the season.

"It's very scary that it's going to happen again," said Yates. "I just want our community to be as safe as possible."

It's still unclear how many of the tens of thousands of trees that were cut down by PG&E during wildfires in 2020 and 2021 have been cleared out. During that year (2020) the utility company plead guilty to 85 felonies - most of which stem from sparking the 2018 Camp Fire.

For a look at more stories and videos by the ABC7 News I-Team go here.

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