Tag Archives: wildfire

PG&E Objects To Judge’s Proposals To Prevent Wildfires

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pushed back Friday on a U.S. judge’s revised proposals to prevent the utility’s equipment from causing more wildfires, saying it could not “monitor every tree at every moment of every day” to ensure they don’t pose a threat to its electric lines in violation of California laws.

Judge William Alsup earlier this month proposed requiring the company to fully comply with all vegetation management and clearance laws as part of its probation in a criminal case. Alsup called the utility’s efforts to prevent trees from hitting its power lines and starting wildfires dismal.

That requirement would likely result in probation violations because tree conditions are constantly changing, PG&E said in a court filing.

“A tree that was compliant at the time of a prior inspection might become a non-compliant hazard tree one day later when it is damaged by a natural or man-made event or three months later after a bark beetle infestation has taken hold,” attorneys for the company said.

Alsup should also leave assessments of PG&E’s compliance with vegetation management laws to state law enforcement officials and regulators, the attorneys said.

PG&E also objected to Alsup’s proposal to ban it from paying dividends to shareholders until it meets his vegetation management requirements. The company said that requirement would substantially hamper its ability to raise money from investors, which in turn would affect its safety efforts.

The company has already suspended dividends and said it will not pay any at least until it emerges from bankruptcy.

The company sought bankruptcy protection in January in the face of billions of dollars in potential liability from recent wildfires.

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion that killed eight people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The judge’s proposals follow devastating wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018 — some of which investigators have blamed on PG&E equipment. Alsup has said his goal is to prevent PG&E equipment from causing any wildfires during the 2019 fire season.

He initially proposed ordering PG&E to undertake more drastic measures, including removing or trimming all trees that could fall on its power lines and cutting off power during certain wind conditions.

Syncrude wants judge to dismiss lawsuit of former firefighter with PTSD

Michael Swan filed the lawsuit in Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench late last year seeking damages for lost compensation and benefits, improper paycheque deductions and in lieu of reasonable notice.

US Forest Service: 18 Million Trees Died In California In 2018

VALLEJO (CBS SF) — The USDA Forest Service announced Monday that an additional 18 million trees, mostly conifers, have died in California since fall 2017.

Federal officials said that over 147 million trees have died across 9.7 million acres of federal, state, local and private lands in California since the drought began in 2010.

Since 2016, federal, state, and local partners have felled 1.5 million dead trees, primarily those posing the highest hazards to life and property.

“It is encouraging that the rate of mortality slowed in 2018,” said Cal Fire Director Thom Porter. “However, 18 million trees are an indication that the forests of California are still under significant stress. The stress of drought, insects, disease, and prolific wildfire will continue to challenge the resilience of the state’s forests.”

While the 2016-2017 winter officially ended California’s drought, below-average precipitation recorded in 2017-2018 slowed the recovery of the state’s surviving trees.

Federal officials warned that dead trees continue to pose a significant hazard to people and critical infrastructure, mostly centered on the west side of the southern Sierra Nevada range.

On January 8, during his first full day in office, Governor Gavin Newsom announced his commitment to forest health and called for a five-year, $1 billion forest management plan in his 2019-2020 state budget proposal.

“California’s forests offer great recreational opportunities and provide significant ecological and economic benefits,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot in a news release. “Years of drought and a bark beetle epidemic have caused one of the largest tree die-offs in state history.”

Newsom Fires Back After Trump Threatens To Withhold California Wildfire Funds

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Less than 48 hours after he was sworn in as California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom found himself locking horns with President Donald Trump Wednesday over wildfire funding and the state’s forest management policies.

Trump once again suggested in a posting on Twitter that poor forest management is to blame for California’s deadly wildfires and said he’s ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop giving the state money “unless they get their act together.”

Newsom fired back, telling Trump in a tweet — “We have been put in office by the voters to get things done, not to play games with lives.”

Trump’s tweet came a day after Newsom and Govs. Jay Inslee and Kate Brown of Washington and Oregon, respectively, sent a letter to the president asking him to double federal funding for forest management.

California’s Democratic U.S. senators also denounced Trump’s tweet Wednesday. In a statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, “It’s absolutely shocking for President Trump to suggest he would deny disaster assistance to communities destroyed by wildfire. Attacking victims is yet another low for this president … If the president were serious about addressing wildfire, he would recommit the United States to reducing harmful emissions rather than attacking wildfire victims and referring to climate change as a hoax.”

Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted, “Californians endured the deadliest wildfire in our state’s history last year. We should work together to mitigate these fires by combating climate change, not play politics by threatening to withhold money from survivors of a deadly natural disaster.”

California Republican lawmakers were also critical of Trump’s threat. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, state Sen. Jim Nielsen and state Assemblyman Jim Gallagher all represent a Northern California community leveled by wildfire in November.

Nielsen and Gallagher said Trump’s threat to withhold money was “wholly unacceptable.” They added that a “Twitter war” between Trump and Newsom was “not helpful.”

LaMalfa said federal and state policies for fire management can be improved. But he said California’s wildfire victims are “American citizens who require our help.”

Newsom noted that California has pledged $1 billion over the next five years to ramp up its efforts, which include clearing dead trees that can serve as fuel.

More than half of California’s forests are managed by the federal government, and the letter noted the U.S. Forest Service’s budget has steadily decreased since 2016.

“Our significant state-level efforts will not be as effective without a similar commitment to increased wildland management by you, our federal partners,” the letter read.

In a Tuesday event on wildfire safety, Newsom had praised Trump for always providing California with necessary disaster relief funds.

In November, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century leveled the California town of Paradise, killing 86 people and destroying about 14,000 homes. Trump toured the fire devastation with Newsom.

Three Workers Fired For Posting ‘Abhorrent’ Camp Fire Wreckage Photos

PARADISE (CBS SF) — Three employees of a San Leandro construction company were fired Saturday for posting insensitive photos on social media from the wreckage left behind in Paradise by the deadly Camp Fire.

In a statement released to KPIX 5, Randy Smith, San Leandro-based Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. Corporate Counsel, said the photos were “abhorrent.”

“We have identified three participants in this abhorrent event and their employment has been terminated,” the statement read. “Bigge expects its employees and contractors to work with the utmost integrity and professionalism. The behavior of these individuals is not consistent with our company values and ethical code.”

“Bigge regrets that the residents of Paradise and Butte County have suffered an egregious insult during an already devasting time at the hands of these three individuals. Bigge supports and appreciates all our surrounding communities.”

Bigge had been hired by Pacific Gas & Electric to help the utility with its clean-up effort.

“We learned of the reprehensible and unfortunate actions of a third-party contractor in the Paradise area today,” the utility said in a statement. “The individual who made the social media posts worked for a sub-contractor to a prime contractor for PG&E. Immediate action was taken and this individual is no longer working on the Camp Fire response or associated with PG&E.”

Paradise officials posted on Facebook that police were looking into charges against the three workers.

“This is unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. Town leadership has contacted this subject’s employer and he will no longer be working in our Town. The Paradise Police Department is looking into criminal charges.#NotInMyTown #ParadiseStrong #RidgeRecovers”

facebook post Three Workers Fired For Posting Abhorrent Camp Fire Wreckage Photos

Several images were posted including a photo of someone’s beloved burned deceased cat with a beer bottle placed up to its mouth with this caption:

“Dude… I was just chilling with my homies, having a couple of cold ones, and BAM… damn fire breaks out.”

The wildfire, the deadliest in California history, broke out on Nov. 8, killing at least 86 people and destroying 14,000 homes in Paradise and nearby communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

On Saturday, all evacuation orders but warned Paradise residents that the town had limited services and advised residents to use power generators and have enough food, water and fuel for their vehicles.

The Butte County health officer issued an advisory strongly urging people not to live on destroyed property until it is declared clear of hazardous waste, ash and debris.

Report Critical Of Costly Battle To Tame 2016 Big Sur Wildfire

BIG SUR (AP) — When a wildfire burned across Big Sur two years ago and threatened hundreds of homes scattered on the scenic hills, thousands of firefighters responded with overwhelming force, attacking flames from the air and ground.

In the first week, the blaze destroyed 57 homes and killed a bulldozer operator, then moved into remote wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. Yet for nearly three more months the attack barely let up.

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The Soberanes Fire burned its way into the record books, costing $262 million as the most expensive wildland firefight in U.S. history in what a new report calls an “extreme example of excessive, unaccountable, budget-busting suppression spending.”

The report by Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology criticizes fire managers for not adapting their approach to the changing nature of the blaze. The nonprofit group, which gets funding from the Leonard DiCaprio Foundation and other environmental organizations, advocates ending “warfare on wildfires” by ecologically managing them.

The report suggests the Forest Service response was the result of a “use it or lose it” attitude to spend its entire budget, which had been boosted by $700 million because of a destructive 2015 fire season. The agency managed to spend nearly all its 2016 money in a less-active fire season on about half the amount of land that burned the year before.

“They just kept going crazy on it,” report author Timothy Ingalsbee said. “It wasn’t demand-driven. It was supply-driven. They had all this extra money Congress had given them, and they had to justify that.”

Forest Service officials would not comment directly on the report. After asking The Associated Press to provide written questions, the agency declined to answer them and issued a short statement saying it was committed to reducing costs in similarly large fires.

“Protection of people first and then resources are our primary considerations,” the statement said. “Every fire is evaluated to determine the appropriate strategy. We continually look for opportunities to improve outcomes and accountability and to find more cost-efficient and effective methods of managing wildfires.”

In addition to burning 206 square miles (534 square kilometers), the smoky fire closed signature parks in the area and put a damper on tourism in Big Sur during the peak season of its only industry. Monterey County estimated a 40 percent loss in revenue for the summer season in the area.

An internal Forest Service review produced last year and obtained by the AP reached some of the same conclusions as Ingalsbee.

For example, the department’s review found that from Aug. 9 to Sept. 29, 2016, the number of threatened structures remained at 400 even as the fire grew by more than 90 square miles (230 square kilometers), which indicated the risk to property had abated as the flames burned into the wilderness. During that period, firefighting costs grew by $140 million.

The review found forest managers didn’t think they could deviate from the “overwhelming force concept” aimed at suppression. It also said the agency’s protocol for managing long-term wildfires “does not sufficiently evaluate and adjust to changing risk.”

One challenge fire commanders faced was an outdated forest management plan for Los Padres that called for full suppression of all wildfires, Ingalsbee said.

Mike Warren, a retired National Park Service firefighter who reviewed the report, questioned the wisdom of suppressing fires in remote wilderness where flames can help eliminate brush and other flammable vegetation that could fuel a later wildfire.

When Warren was fire management officer at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, they would let blazes burn in the wilderness if they were confident the fire would stay in the park.

The challenge in a place like the tourist-dependent Big Sur area is pressure from politicians, homeowners, businesses, loggers and ranchers to control the fire, Warren said.

“When is enough enough?” he said. “When do you back off say, ‘This is it. We’re just going to let it do its thing.’ That takes some real political will.”

The Forest Service’s internal review inspired Ingalsbee to file public records requests for other documents that led to his report.

Among his findings:

— About a fifth of the area burned was from fires set to clear brush and vegetation between outer perimeters and the active fire. One of these blazes jumped fire lines. These burnout operations created additional smoke and cost an estimated $50 million.

— A nearly $39 million air campaign, including large air tankers that cost $5,720 per hour, was largely ineffective. Retardant is effective at slowing flames only where ground crews can remove vegetation to create containment lines. But drops were done deep in steep, rugged wilderness where it was too dangerous to send crews, and even where flames never reached.

— Bulldozers, which cost $1,700 per hour, tore up wilderness, creating what Ingalsbee called “ghost roads” that will remain for years. The Forest Service spent an estimated $1 million a day for weeks repairing damage done by dozers.

The report concluded that once the blaze that broke out July 22, 2016, entered wilderness, there was little chance of stopping it before fall rains fell.

Chad Hanson, an expert on fire and director of the John Muir Project, a nonprofit environmental group, said the cost was stunning, but the approach to fire was business as usual.

“It’s sort of shocking that this massive amount of taxpayer money is being spent trying to suppress backcountry fires that are weather-driven and can’t be stopped until the weather changes, rather than focusing resources on protecting communities,” Hanson said. “On the other hand, I’m not surprised the Forest Service is doing this because it’s been their practice for years.”

One beneficiary of the firefighting effort was Tom Little Bear Nason, who lives in a homestead in the national forest his family has owned for 150 years. He was also a contractor on the fire, with a team of dozer operators.

Nason, chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, credited the suppression effort with helping save his property. But he said costs shot up when managers went overboard on backfires and cut contingency lines too far from the fire.

He also criticized the leadership on the fire, which changed every couple of weeks, for disregarding a pre-attack fire plan drawn up by local, state and federal agencies, tribal leaders, environmentalists and homeowners that included information on protecting historic and cultural sites.

He said those plans “got chucked out the window” and led to significant losses. A homesteader cabin burned to the ground, sacred sites such as burial grounds were plowed over, and a rock where tribal members gave birth was struck by a bulldozer.

“Lots of efforts went to protect communities that went above and beyond” what was necessary, Nason said. “They were acting on the worst-case scenario.”