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Company spreads lies and false hope like “wildfire”

By Victoria Takacs

2018 proved to be a difficult year for many, but more so for the people in California. In seemingly back to back devastation for the west coast, California towns burned down in a matter of hours at a time. Dozens of lives were lost, and hundreds of homes were destroyed.

The Camp Fire, which started on Nov. 8, 2018 in Butte County has become one of the deadliest and most destructive recorded fires in U.S. history and in the world. It swept across Paradise, California and reduced thousands of structures to ashes. There were reportedly 86 fatalities during the two weeks it burned.

There’s a lot of speculation about the cause of this fire. Fingers are currently being pointed at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) who, according to The New York Times, is suspected to have caused 17 of 21 fires in 2017.

There are now confirming reports that PG&E started the Camp Fire. With 16 million customers, it is easy to assume that PG&E would have taken the necessary seasonal precautions.

However, PG&E has been accused of having unsafe infrastructure and faulty equipment. The company also claimed that they were going to shut down power a few days before the fire started as a safety precaution, but reportedly did not.

The New York Times also reports that PG&E has been hit with a combined $30 billion in liability charges for damages that came from the last two years of wildfire. This amount of money far exceeds the company’s assets and insurance.

In 2010, PG&E came under fire after it was revealed that the company was behind a natural gas explosion that took eight lives in San Bruno. This led to widespread distrust in the company and their safety procedures.

Adding that accusation to the current claim that PG&E is filing for bankruptcy to protect itself from the wildfire liabilities, the public protests against the company have been on the rise. Insurance companies are against paying for all of the damages and are claiming that PG&E should be forced to deal with all of the costs, as they were the cause of it.

People pay insurance companies to protect and cover their homes in case of a tragedy such as this. Insurance companies are now refusing to pay for damages caused by the fire, claiming that PG&E should cover all costs. There are reports by insurance companies about people purposely burning down their houses to collect insurance money. This form of fraud is now keeping actual victims from the help and support they need.

PG&E got out of paying the huge lump sum of money from damages in 2017 caused by fires, but this time there should be no question of who should be putting in the most money. The company has made mistakes that led to the loss of many lives, which is unforgivable. Thinking about the amount of families that are now homeless, lost family members or were forced to restart their lives somewhere else, I only hope that PG&E does not get the outcome they desire. It may also lead to more expensive electric and gas rates for customers. If the company gets what they want, everyone who suffered will lose even more.

For that reason, PG&E should also have to help pay for the damages done to the structures in the area affected by the fires. While things are being settled, the U.S. government should step in and take all actions necessary to start the reconstruction of what was once Paradise, California.

Hunter Dain, Junior and chapter president of sorority Pi Beta Phi, said, “Originally I think a lot of people weren’t very concerned about the fires because they are really common in California, like getting tropical storms here in Florida. But when it took a little while longer than usual to get put out, that’s when people got more concerned because it started affecting their daily lives and ability to go outside. People had to go outside in gas masks. It looked like end of the world movie kind of props.”

As companies go back and forth on who should pay for the damages caused by the fires, we are losing sight of the countless people suffering while they wait for answers. Even months later many are still struggling to cope with their losses, so hopefully there will be more actions coming rather than more false claims.

you can reach Victoria Takacs at victoria.takacs@spartans.ut.edu

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