This piece is the best thing I’ve read in the Wall Street Journal in years. I can’t wait to read the book. It comes out in five days.
A brilliant flash broke the morning darkness on Nov. 8, 2018, as strong winds pummeled a power line scaling the Sierra Nevada mountains 90 miles north of Sacramento, Calif. A worn hook hanging from a century-old transmission tower owned by PG&E Corp. broke clean, dropping a high-voltage wire that spit electricity just before sunrise. A shower of sparks set dry brush aflame. PG&E recorded an outage on the line at 6:15 a.m.
The message reached the local fire station at 6:29 a.m. Two engines sped north along a remote road running up a steep river canyon that funnels mountain winds down to the valley below. Within 15 minutes, they arrived on the east bank of the Feather River, opposite the makings of a firestorm. There was no way to get ahead of it. The transmission tower, perched high along a steep, gravelly access route, was almost completely inaccessible by fire engine.
Within an hour, the fire had spread 7 miles to arrive at the outskirts of Paradise, a town nestled in the Sierra foothills. Residents awoke to emergency evacuation orders as softball-sized embers collided with dead trees. The fire was entirely out of control. At its fastest, it engulfed the equivalent of 80 football fields a minute, by some estimates. As the evacuation process began, thick black smoke took on the hellish orange hue of the flames. Escape routes became choke points, lines of cars inching along melting asphalt.