МОСКВА, 17 сентября 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.

US President Joe Biden ordered to provide federal assistance to the victims of the Caldor fire in California. In his decree signed on the evening of September 12, Biden recognised this fire as a major natural disaster and promised to throw money at the state authorities and a number of private NGOs – however, only “on the basis of cost sharing” — for emergency work and repair/replacement of damaged facilities. By the way, not a word about compensation for citizens. On September 1, Biden already expressed his concerns about “Caldor”, limiting himself to the introduction of a state of emergency at that time.

Let us briefly list the tactical and technical characteristics of the disaster that struck the county with the inappropriate name “El Dorado”. The fire started on the morning of August 14 and since then it has been destroying everything in its path, spreading over almost 900 square kilometres and rising to 16th place on the list of the most grandiose fires in the history of California. To date, according to official data, only 65% of the fire area has been extinguished. The causes of the fire are still unknown.

Of course, the scale of “Caldor” is far from the record holder – the 2020 “August Complex” fire caused, as it was stated, by “lightning strikes”. For three months, it raged in an area of 4,200 square kilometres, destroyed 935 buildings and caused damage to a third of a billion dollars. However, child “Caldor” also managed to destroy 922 buildings (now about 20,000 buildings are under threat), despite the round-the-clock struggle of 3,500 firefighters, two dozen helicopters and dozens of fire equipment units with it.

More importantly, the fire and, above all, the smoke affected densely populated areas of California within an hour’s drive from Sacramento: the population density of El Dorado County is 39 people/sq.km, about the same as in the Stavropol Territory or the Nizhny Novgorod region. As well as the main tourist attraction of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe, a stay in the vicinity of which, according to eyewitnesses, now resembles “life in a chimney”.

By the way, “Caldor” is not the only fire raging right now in California. Another one, “Dixie”, is four times more. It came in second place in the historical top, having already covered 3,900 square kilometres in the north of the state and noticeably worsened the air quality in Colorado and Utah. “Dixie” started a month before “Caldor”, on July 13, and has so far been only the same 65% extinguished.

Recently, the pictures from the California fires remind us, as is usual in the US, of disaster films. Orange sky, walls of fire, many kilometres of smoke columns, looking like a volcanic eruption. Multi-kilometre traffic jams from evacuating cars. Reports from the lips of brave firefighters. And buildings burning to the ground.

That is, for several weeks now, in a state “whose GDP exceeds Russia”, as “patriots of America” like to mention on occasion and without occasion, lands the size of half of Cyprus have been burning, and no one can do anything about it. And last year they couldn’t, and the year before that, too.

And all of this is burning not hundreds of kilometres from the nearest housing, as in the unfortunate Yakutia, where not every fire plane will fly to some hotbeds, but in the immediate vicinity of civilisation, which, considering itself the most powerful on the planet, can’t do anything about fire for months. In fact, well, what can one do against lightning, hot dry weather and strong wind? The elements!!!

However, it turns out that it is not the only one to blame. And if with “Caldor” the cause of the fire has yet to be found out, then in the case of “Dixie” everything seems to be clear. And no, we are not talking about a suspicion of deliberate arson, which a crazy former university professor Gary Stephen Maynard is suspected of doing. Everything is much more prosaic and sadder — and it looks like a bad detective.

On July 13, at 7 am, the shutdown system of the California Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) indicated that the Cresta dam in the Feather River Canyon lost power due to a blown fuse on a 12-kilowatt distribution network. However, due to road works and difficult terrain, a company employee got to the right pole only in the evening. There he noticed an open flame at the base of a tree, the branches of which were entangled in live wires, and reported a fire.

Unfortunately, the actions of the fire pilots turned out to be ineffective, because, according to them, they were hindered by a certain drone that appeared directly above the fire. Ground crews were unable to arrive at the fire in time due to bad roads. So, they say, everything flared up. This is California, in the 21st century.

A ridiculous accident, the repetition of which is impossible in a developed country? But here it is not. The fact is that the culprit of the “Dixie” fire, PG&E, has been saving for decades on putting its power transmission lines in order. From year to year, the same story repeats itself: young trees, growing up, cling to the wires with their crowns, a short circuit occurs, sparks fly, and hot weather completes what has been started.

An investigation carried out by the Wall Street Journal conducted in the summer of 2019 showed that about 60% of all PG&E high-voltage networks were built in the 1920s and 1950s and have not been repaired since then, and another 30% of California power lines have been waiting for replacement since the 1900s and 1910s! Moreover, in many places of the state, wires are stretched between wooden poles, which already looks like an application for the Darwin Award.

Of course, the company is well aware of its own sloppiness, but from year to year it postpones multibillion-dollar spending on network modernisation. In the same year, 2019, after the catastrophic fires of previous years, PG&E considered it good to file for bankruptcy. However, the following summer, it happily avoided this fate by collecting the required amounts from its own clients to compensate the victims of the fires.

PG&E is doing well now. The company still participates in “green” renewable energy projects, such as processing raw biogas into “carbon-neutral” methane, and reports on profits, increasing California’s GDP to everyone’s delight. Well, the fact that because of accidents on wooden poles 100 years ago, houses and forests are burning year after year in the Golden State… what can be done! The elements, you know.

Институт международных политических и экономических стратегий Русстрат

(@russtrat)

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