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California’s on fire, unplugged and out of easy answers. So why don’t we …?

Firefighters stand watch by a fire line along Mayacama Club Drive as the Kincade Fire burns in the outskirts of Santa Rosa on Oct. 28. (Photo by Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group, via CalMatters; all other photos courtesy of CalMatters)

Introduction

The easy calls have been made in dealing with California’s wildfire crisis. We’re clearing brush, spending on firefighters, hastening insurance claims. We’ve tied the pay of utility executives to their companies’ safety records. To save lives — and liability costs — during red flag conditions, we’ve cut power to great swaths of the state.

We’ve spent billions: Rare is the press release from Gov. Gavin Newsom that does not include a litany of wildfire actions. But it hasn’t been enough, and as Californians now face the realities of climate change by the terrified millions, the only choices left are hard vs. hard: Black out even more people. Ban wildland homebuilding. Bury power lines. Build microgrids. Break up the state’s largest utility — the bankrupt one supplying half of the state — and give its aging, spark-spewing equipment to taxpayers or customers or hedge funds or Warren Buffett. Burn nature before it burns you.

So what are our options at this point, assuming we get through this season? Here are a few — with pros, cons and political odds.

Elizabeth Castillo and Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this explainer, which was updated Nov. 1, 2019.














For an even deeper look at the intersection of climate change, utilities and California fire season, explore CalMatters’ updated wildfire explainer here.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.