Image - Katherine Blunt
Image - Katherine Blunt

California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric—and What It Means for America's Power Grid

Author Katherine Blunt provides what is being called a "revelatory, urgent narrative with national implications," exploring the decline of California’s largest utility company that led to countless wildfires—including the one that destroyed the town of Paradise—and the human cost of infrastructure failure

Pacific Gas and Electric was a legacy company built by innovators and visionaries, establishing California as a desirable home and economic powerhouse. In California Burning, Wall Street Journal reporter and Pulitzer finalist Katherine Blunt examines how that legacy fell apart—unraveling a long history of deadly failures in which PG&E endangered millions of Northern Californians, through criminal neglect of its infrastructure. She says that as PG&E prioritized profits and politics, power lines went unchecked—until a rusted hook purchased for 56 cents in 1921 split in two, sparking the deadliest wildfire in California history.

Beginning with PG&E’s public reckoning after the Paradise fire, Blunt chronicles the evolution of PG&E’s shareholder base, from innovators who built some of California's first long-distance power lines to aggressive investors keen on reaping dividends. Following key players through pivotal decisions and legal battles, California Burning reveals the forces Blunt says shaped the plight of PG&E: deregulation and market-gaming led by Enron Corp., an unyielding push for renewable energy, and a swift increase in wildfire risk throughout the West, while regulators and lawmakers pushed their own agendas.


Andrew Dudley


A People & Nature Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

Image - Katherine Blunt

Katherine Blunt

Reporter, The Wall Street Journal; Finalist, 2020 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting; Recipient, Gerald Loeb Award

Image - Andrew Dudley

Andrew Dudley

Co-Host and Producer, Earth Live; Chair, People & Nature Member-Led Forum, The Commonwealth Club of California—Moderator