PG&E flying daily airplane patrols to spot wildfires across Northern California

PG&E has begun daily aerial fire protection patrols over thousands of miles in Northern California, to spot wildfires at their inception and prevent their spread, according to a news release.

The patrols began June 1 and will continue through Oct. 31 or later, depending on conditions. Seven fixed-wing planes will fly daily routes from late afternoon into dusk, which is when most wildfires spark, according to the utility.

This is the sixth year for these patrols, which aid the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and local fire departments with rapid fire detection and response. The patrols first began in 2014, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency drought declaration.

“Given the continued and growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires, we are committed to further reduce wildfire risks and help keep our customers and the communities we serve safe,” said Sumeet Singh, spokesman at PG&E, in the release. “Early detection with these patrols can give first responders the critical window of time to quickly contain wildfires.”

In 2018, PG&E patrols spotted 209 fires, 10 of which were first reports, and the planes patrolled for more than 5,200 hours, the utility said.

The aerial patrols are part of PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program, which includes inspection of electrical infrastructure in high fire risk areas, the installation of weather stations and cameras, and a 24/7 wildfire safety operations center.

The daily patrol routes include Redding to Auburn in the Northern Sierra, Auburn to Sonora in the Central Sierra, Sonora to Porterville in the Southern Sierra, Redding to Humboldt to Lake County, Vacaville to Solvang near the coast, Redding to Hoopa to McArthur (Siskiyou County and northeastern Shasta County), and Mendocino County.

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Candice Wang, from Yale, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in climate change, sustainability, socioeconomic inequality, and culture. She grew up in Connecticut.