When PG&E announced just over a week ago that they would shut off power to approximately 27,000 residents in Santa Clara County due to a red flag warning, the energy company claimed “some Milpitas residents” would be affected. PG&E’s map placed the affected area in the easternmost outskirts of the city, creeping along Piedmont Road.
When Sunday came, blackouts claimed much more of Milpitas than PG&E had pegged, including parts of midtown, just across from City Hall.
Radikha Hart’s home wasn’t in one of those areas. Hart lived with her boyfriend, Robert Pease, and his mother, Daislyn Pease. The Peases had been living in the Marilynn Drive neighborhood for over 30 years.
According to PG&E, Hart’s neighborhood didn’t fall into one of the high-risk areas drawn by the company.
As high winds battered the city, Hart was taking out the trash while Robert Pease was in the living room watching the 49ers-Panthers football game.
Hart heard a loud pop, and then another one, and soon her yard was on fire.
“I yelled at him [Robert] to get out here to the yard now,” Hart recalled.
A faulty PG&E power line had sparked, igniting the Peases’ yard.
The fire spread quickly throughout the yard. Hart and Pease tried to put it out, but the hose was too short.
By the time the Milpitas Fire Department put the fire out, the flames had engulfed the house and the two cars in the garage. It also spread to a nearby creek behind the home. Three other homes sustained minor damage.
The Milpitas home that the Peases had lived in since 1989 was gone.
“It was devastating,” Hart said.
Milpitas Fire saw fallen power lines surrounding the home as they put out the fire, which PG&E confirmed through an incident report filed Monday to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the state’s regulatory body on utilities.
According to Hart, PG&E knew the trees next to her home were a fire risk due to their proximity to power lines. A PG&E representative was even sent to the home in August, and assessed that the trees around the house needed to be trimmed.
“We asked if we could hire somebody to cut the trees down,” said Hart. “They said no, and that they would take care of it.”
The representative promised a follow-up visit by an arborist within “six to eight weeks” to trim the trees.
“They never came.” Hart said.
PG&E has been heavily criticized over the past month for their measures in addressing fire safety. The company initiated what they called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) last month in response to high fire risks. The move has threatened or impacted over 250,000 households across the Bay Area with power shutoffs.
The company has been accused of intentionally leaving vegetation and tree lines unchecked, which during high winds can cause a significant fire risk due to electric sparks. The high winds can carry these sparks quickly, causing rapid ignition in surrounding areas.
A report alleges PG&E executives spent almost $5 billion on shareholder dividends while ignoring the need to fix its aging power lines.
PG&E’s alleged negligence has been a suspected factor in causing the Camp Fire — the deadliest and costliest wildfire in state history — and the Kincade Fire, which has destroyed almost 80,000 acres in the North Bay since it started on October 23.
The company’s failure to keep its shutdown maps consistent and its inability to keep up with the increased traffic to its website have been equally criticized.
Although the Pease family came out of the fire unharmed, the same can’t be said about their dog Brin, a Catahoula leopard dog and pitbull mix. In the fray, the dog ran into the street and was struck by a car.
Brin’s injuries forced surgeons to amputate one of his legs, and to operate on his bladder, which ruptured during the accident.
The Pease family estimates the vet bill at around $5,000.
The family cat, Sylvester, also took off during the blaze, and is still missing.
As word of the fire spread, a family friend established a GoFundMe page late last Monday night, which was quickly shared on social media. At press time, the page has raised over $6,700 for the family.
“We have a humbling sense of gratitude,” Hart said of the page.
Others have donated food and clothes, and a local PetSmart has donated food for their dog.
According to the couple, PG&E has not reached out to them since the fire, although inspectors from the company combed the site over the last week.
For now, both Hart and Pease are staying at a friend’s home, while Pease’s mother is staying elsewhere. According to the CPUC, the fire — and PG&E’s alleged involvement, if any — is still under investigation.
“We’d much rather have our power shut off than to lose our house,” Hart said. “There has to be a better way.”
To donate to Hart and Pease’s GoFundMe page, click here.