PG&E accelerates tree-trimming in response to ferocious fire seasons

PG&E is responsible for keeping millions of trees, big and small, away from and off of its power equipment so it can provide reliable service, as well as prevent dangerous downed power lines and prevent fires. But some folks think that, perhaps, the utility may now be overdoing it.

In light of last year's and this year's ferocious fire seasons, PG&E says it is expanding and accelerating its tree trimming. 

"I didn't really expect the width or the scale of what was actually completed at the end," said  Nicholas Bleecher, the wine maker at his family owned Jericho Winery just outside Calistoga. 

PG&E said they were going to clear trees, to protect power lines and property from wildfires, but this seemed a bit much. From side to side, the new clearing stretches nearly 200 feet under the big power lines.

He is however, seeing the glass both half full and half empty. "There's positives and negatives. Now, I mean, this is an incredible fire break if there is a fire that comes in," said Mr. Bleecher. 

The negatives: a large, clear cut pathway may alter the watershed. 

"That would be the biggest concern. Of course, if you have a large amount of erosion coming down, coming through the canyon that could end up in the reservoir, the creeks in the area and end up in the Napa River," said Bleecher.   

He also says that some of the neighbors who were also clear cut felt the crews could have been more respectful of the property and the watershed. 

"Where they've gone through and into neighbor properties and taken our fences and haven't repaired their fences. So, obviously, they need fencing and there's a reason why you have you fences up: to protect your property from wildlife around," said Bleecher.

Stricter trimming standards now require PG&E to keep overhanging branches 12-feet away from power lines and never closer than four-feet thereafter. In the highest danger zones the clearance is set at 15 feet. The stricter standards also allow for the complete removal of what are deemed "hazardous" trees – dead, dying or otherwise hazardous simply because they are tall enough to fall on to power lines.

So whether it's clearing out wide swaths of trees, in order to protect main transmission lines or work being done around the neighborhoods, one thing is for sure: This is not theory. This is going to be tested in real life, very soon, by real fires.