PG&E’s community wildfire safety program by Robert Sieben, MD

I attended a meeting in San Ramon last July to learn about PG&E’s new community wildfire safety program. I came as a skeptic but left pleased with their plan, especially after talking one-on-one with PG&E’s East Bay Division senior manager Vitaly Tyurin.

The expectation is that with improved readiness and early detection future wildfires in Alameda County will be more containable than was the firestorm of 1991. That historic fire ravaged our hills in six hours and was stoppable only when the wind changed. No such destructive, severe wild fires have traveled so quickly elsewhere in California.

The recent PG&E flier sent to all of our homes outlines elements of their program:
PG&E is taking many impressive, needed steps to improve our safety in high risk areas:

• New, fully staffed Operations Center for real-time monitoring of wildfire risks (wind, humidity, etc.)
• 200 new weather stations
• Powerline clearances increased from 4 to 12+ ft

• Certain wood poles replaced with non-wood
• Stronger, coated powerlines and other technical fixes.

PG&E will turn off electric power lines only if their Operations Center identifies extreme fire danger, in which case they promise to provide the following:

• Early notification through automated calls, texts and emails using information you file at

• Personal calls to customers with critical needs (critical needs status must be pre-registered by phone—call 800-743-5000)

• PG&E will inspect/restore power lines at first light in most cases
• Areas where PG&E lines are already underground will likely have power restored quickly.

In the unlikely event that power is off for days: The public will need to cope by taking the precautions already recommended for the expected major earthquake on the Hayward fault. With disaster preparedness in place most people won’t need a gas-run generator. I recommend purchasing an inexpensive charger. There are many available that can be charged every few months, then used in an emergency to power work lights, USB ports and cell phones.

Dr. Sieben is chair of wildfire prevention at Hiller Highlands, Phase V.