(Nasa Earth Observatory)
Beginning on November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire in Butte County, California torched over 150,000 acres of land and over 18,000 buildings. The town of Paradise was almost completely destroyed and the total damages amounted to around $16.5 Billion Dollars. There were 85 civilian fatalities and 52,000 people were evacuated.
The largest energy company in California, Pacific Gas & Energy, was deemed responsible due to a failure to shut down power transmission lines in an area marked with a red flag alert for fire by the National Weather Service. Doing so resulted in downed lines that were missing their insulators, which mixed with high winds and caused the fire to burn thousands of acres in a matter of days.
This was the most devastating fire in California’s history and forced PG&E to file for bankruptcy protection after incurring around $30 billion in fire liabilities. This was before they announced a plan to spend about $700 million on efforts to reduce the risk of an incident as bad as the Camp Fire. This includes the inspection, trimming, and cutting of about 100 million trees across California.
The effect on local businesses
PG&E has about 3,000 workers on staff to try and meet this goal with the fire season now in full swing, but this means trouble for a number of smaller tree care companies across the state. The massive company is looking to contract larger companies or simply take employees from them by offering better pay and benefits. A number of long-standing businesses have been losing experienced climbers and cutters simply because they can’t pay them the rates PG&E is offering.
At first glance, the project seems beneficial to tree care companies across the state, however the shortage of labor is inevitably going to hurt everyone. The massive projects will bring in more people from across the country, but it could result in a saturation of the market in California. This could cause companies who have been around for decades to lose customers and in some cases go out of business completely.
Tree care companies fighting on two fronts
A number of these smaller companies have been around since logging became an industry on the west coast, so they take pride in their difficult craft. While you can take five day classes with Tree Climbers International and ACRT to certify you as a tree climber and trimmer, it takes years of experience to master the art of tree trimming at sixty feet or more. This is going to be a major risk factor in the coming years as companies look to fill spots. Without man power the task is impossible, but turning it over to rookies has the potential to be disastrous.
With this in mind companies may look to new and improved technology to combat the labor problem and work more efficiently. The use of boom mounted grapple saws has surged in recent years and will certainly be getting plenty of attention by tree care professionals on the west coast. These pieces of heavy equipment can be mounted to the back of trucks and have the ability to take down entire trees without a single person in the air. For a large energy company with millions of dollars at their disposal there could certainly be an emphasis on creating an arsenal of these tree slicing machines to reduce risk and costs.
With stakes higher than ever how will California companies respond?
The need to prevent massive infernos is overwhelming in California. Companies will continue to work to make sure these projects are completed in the name of safety, and more and more tree care professionals will likely move to California for a piece of the action. With funding from massive energy companies and the government they will have the necessary resources to complete the task, but it may not be enough to slow down mother nature’s course.
This daunting challenge is going to be one to watch for tree care companies all over the west coast as most of the responsibility is bound to fall on them. Needless to say this will be one of the hottest topics in the industry over the next ten years as the efforts to prevent disaster continue.