Thursday, May 30, 2019

California PUC sets rules for cutting power in "truly extreme fire danger weather" to prevent wildfires

California Public Utilities Commission gave the green light allowing utilities to de-energize power lines to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires


Photo credit: KOLO


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) —

California regulators on Thursday approved allowing utilities to cut off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires like the one sparked by power lines last year that killed 85 people and largely destroyed the city of Paradise.

Utilities' liability can reach billions of dollars, and after several years of devastating wildfires, they asked regulators to allow them to pull the plug when fire risk is extremely high. That's mainly during periods of excessive winds and low humidity when vegetation is dried out and can easily ignite.

The California Public Utilities Commission gave the green light but said utilities must do a better job educating and notifying the public, particularly those with disabilities and others who are vulnerable, and ramp up preventive efforts, such as clearing brush and installing fire-resistant poles.

The plans could inconvenience hundreds of thousands of customers while endangering some who depend on electricity to keep them alive, like 56-year-old Kallithea Miller.

Although she lives far from wildfire danger near a shopping mall in Stockton, south of Sacramento, she relies on a refrigerator to cool her insulin and a machine to keep her breathing at night.

"I could die in my sleep," she said. "It's scaring the hell out of me."

The precautionary outages could mean multiday blackouts for cities as large as San Francisco and San Jose, Northern California's major power provider warned in a recent filing with the utilities commission.

Pacific Gas & Electric anticipates cutting the power only in "truly extreme fire danger weather" while recognizing that there "are safety risks on both sides of this issue," vice president Aaron Johnson said.

PG&E initially planned to de-energize power lines in at-risk rural areas but has since expanded its plans to include high-voltage transmission lines like the one that sparked the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century. The blaze last November killed 85 people while wiping out nearly 15,000 homes in and around Paradise.

"I know it inconveniences people, but it's a small price to pay for not having the kind of devastation that we had in Paradise," Mayor Jody Jones said. "Everyone I know in Paradise knew that PG&E might cut the power off. I didn't see that as a problem. The problem was that they didn't actually shut it off."

Utility equipment has been blamed for many of California's most destructive and deadly wildfires in recent years.

Other major California utilities have similar plans that commissioners unanimously approved Thursday, also warning that outages could extend into cities under some conditions.

"We're worried about it because we could see people's power shut off not for a day or two but potentially a week," Gov. Gavin Newsom said as he recently called for California to spend $75 million to help communities prepare. "This is high winds, severe weather, turn off the electricity so it doesn't ignite a fire. It's a good thing - unless you're impacted."

California's three largest investor-owned utilities serve more than 150,000 customers who rely on life-support equipment, many of whom are considered low income, state Sen. Bill Dodd said. The Democrat from Napa wants utilities to provide backup electricity or financial assistance so high-risk customers can buy generators or batteries.

The elderly, people with disabilities and language barriers, and poorer residents in remote areas with limited transportation or communication are also at greater risk. Cellphone networks can fail, computers and internet phone lines won't work, traffic signals go dark and there can be problems with communication systems, water treatment facilities and emergency services.

Utility representatives said they are doing their best to work with emergency responders and community groups to warn vulnerable customers, as the Public Utilities Commission required.

"What the PUC can do is basically lay out the expectations for what the utilities need to do. Where the rubber meets the road is how the utilities operationalize, particularly on the notification," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network.

The option to pull the plug isn't new, though state officials expect it to be used much more frequently.

San Diego Gas & Electric won permission to cut off power during high-risk conditions after its equipment ignited three big fires in 2007. State regulators expanded the shut-off requirements to other investor-owned utilities last year, after devastating fires in 2017.

Once power is shut off, the utilities must inspect every de-energized line before they restore power, a process that can keep the lights out for days even after conditions improve.

Both PG&E and Southern California Edison used their new authority last fall, with many residents and local officials upset that stores, businesses and schools had to close for lack of electricity.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said his city of 5,200 residents in the Napa Valley was the first to experience a PG&E power outage, "so we learned firsthand how that goes - not well."

He cited poor communication, which utility representatives said they are working to improve, but praised PG&E for now trying to keep makeshift power flowing to key areas of town in the next outage.

"They're damned if they do, and damned if they don't," Canning said. "There's only so much we can do as a city to protect you. Individual residents have to be prepared."

Miller said her backup plan is a cat named Mojo who instinctively paws at her face whenever she stops breathing.

"It puts us in a dangerous situation and a stressful situation," she said. "If they have a blackout that lasts for five days, I'm screwed."

----
Source: 
https://www.kcra.com/article/california-sets-rules-for-cutting-power-to-prevent-wildfires/27671240

California sets rules for cutting power to prevent wildfires

California Public Utilities Commission gave the green light allowing utilities to de-energize power lines to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires


Photo credit: KOLO
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) —
California regulators on Thursday approved allowing utilities to cut off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires like the one sparked by power lines last year that killed 85 people and largely destroyed the city of Paradise.

Utilities' liability can reach billions of dollars, and after several years of devastating wildfires, they asked regulators to allow them to pull the plug when fire risk is extremely high. That's mainly during periods of excessive winds and low humidity when vegetation is dried out and can easily ignite.

The California Public Utilities Commission gave the green light but said utilities must do a better job educating and notifying the public, particularly those with disabilities and others who are vulnerable, and ramp up preventive efforts, such as clearing brush and installing fire-resistant poles.

The plans could inconvenience hundreds of thousands of customers while endangering some who depend on electricity to keep them alive, like 56-year-old Kallithea Miller.

Although she lives far from wildfire danger near a shopping mall in Stockton, south of Sacramento, she relies on a refrigerator to cool her insulin and a machine to keep her breathing at night.

"I could die in my sleep," she said. "It's scaring the hell out of me."

The precautionary outages could mean multiday blackouts for cities as large as San Francisco and San Jose, Northern California's major power provider warned in a recent filing with the utilities commission.

Pacific Gas & Electric anticipates cutting the power only in "truly extreme fire danger weather" while recognizing that there "are safety risks on both sides of this issue," vice president Aaron Johnson said.

PG&E initially planned to de-energize power lines in at-risk rural areas but has since expanded its plans to include high-voltage transmission lines like the one that sparked the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century. The blaze last November killed 85 people while wiping out nearly 15,000 homes in and around Paradise.

"I know it inconveniences people, but it's a small price to pay for not having the kind of devastation that we had in Paradise," Mayor Jody Jones said. "Everyone I know in Paradise knew that PG&E might cut the power off. I didn't see that as a problem. The problem was that they didn't actually shut it off."

Utility equipment has been blamed for many of California's most destructive and deadly wildfires in recent years.

Other major California utilities have similar plans that commissioners unanimously approved Thursday, also warning that outages could extend into cities under some conditions.

"We're worried about it because we could see people's power shut off not for a day or two but potentially a week," Gov. Gavin Newsom said as he recently called for California to spend $75 million to help communities prepare. "This is high winds, severe weather, turn off the electricity so it doesn't ignite a fire. It's a good thing - unless you're impacted."

California's three largest investor-owned utilities serve more than 150,000 customers who rely on life-support equipment, many of whom are considered low income, state Sen. Bill Dodd said. The Democrat from Napa wants utilities to provide backup electricity or financial assistance so high-risk customers can buy generators or batteries.

The elderly, people with disabilities and language barriers, and poorer residents in remote areas with limited transportation or communication are also at greater risk. Cellphone networks can fail, computers and internet phone lines won't work, traffic signals go dark and there can be problems with communication systems, water treatment facilities and emergency services.

Utility representatives said they are doing their best to work with emergency responders and community groups to warn vulnerable customers, as the Public Utilities Commission required.

"What the PUC can do is basically lay out the expectations for what the utilities need to do. Where the rubber meets the road is how the utilities operationalize, particularly on the notification," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network.

The option to pull the plug isn't new, though state officials expect it to be used much more frequently.

San Diego Gas & Electric won permission to cut off power during high-risk conditions after its equipment ignited three big fires in 2007. State regulators expanded the shut-off requirements to other investor-owned utilities last year, after devastating fires in 2017.

Once power is shut off, the utilities must inspect every de-energized line before they restore power, a process that can keep the lights out for days even after conditions improve.

Both PG&E and Southern California Edison used their new authority last fall, with many residents and local officials upset that stores, businesses and schools had to close for lack of electricity.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said his city of 5,200 residents in the Napa Valley was the first to experience a PG&E power outage, "so we learned firsthand how that goes - not well."

He cited poor communication, which utility representatives said they are working to improve, but praised PG&E for now trying to keep makeshift power flowing to key areas of town in the next outage.

"They're damned if they do, and damned if they don't," Canning said. "There's only so much we can do as a city to protect you. Individual residents have to be prepared."

Miller said her backup plan is a cat named Mojo who instinctively paws at her face whenever she stops breathing.

"It puts us in a dangerous situation and a stressful situation," she said. "If they have a blackout that lasts for five days, I'm screwed."

----


Thursday, February 28, 2019

PG&E admits equipment ‘probably’ caused Paradise Camp Fire, says its future is in doubt

PG&E acknowledged Thursday that its power equipment is likely to blame for the Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in California history.


6 things to know about the PG&E bankruptcy filing and how it affects you
PG&E is about to go bankrupt. Will the troubled utility keep the lights on as it finds a resolution of the billions of dollars it faces in potential liabilities from the Camp Fire and the wine country wildfires. 

PG&E acknowledged Thursday that its power equipment is likely to blame for the Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in California history.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy a month ago, also said its wildfire liabilities “raise substantial doubt about PG&E Corporation and the utility’s ability to continue as going concerns.” Companies typically use “going concern” language in Securities and Exchange Commission filings when they’re in such dire financial straits that the company’s future existence is in doubt.

State officials have raised the possibility of forcing PG&E to sell some of its operations, including its natural gas division, to pay wildfire claims. The idea of a state takeover of the utility has also been discussed.

Announcing its fourth quarter financial results early Thursday, the beleaguered utility said “it is probable that its equipment will be determined to be an ignition point of the 2018 Camp Fire.”

A faulty transmission tower near the remote community of Pulga, northeast of Paradise, has long been suspected as the probable cause of the November fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed much of Paradise.

PG&E said a “broken C-hook” attached to the 115-kilovolt tower was the probable cause of the fire. That, according to PG&E, caused a malfunction of the line at about the time and place that state CalFire officials say the Camp Fire ignited. A PG&E employee observed a fire at that site minutes later. PG&E inspectors later found a “flash mark” and other damage on the pole.

California state fire investigators on Thursday declined comment on PG&E’s announcement, saying their investigation of the fire cause is still underway, with no date set for completion.

“We will not address what PG&E said until our investigation been completed,” CalFire spokesman Scott McLean said.

Facing an estimated $30 billion in liabilities from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its parent PG&E Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late January.

John Geesman, an energy policy consultant in Oakland, said the latest revelations will worsen the utility’s already troubled image and could influence Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature as they consider what steps they should take to deal with the PG&E bankruptcy.

The quarterly financial results shed additional light on PG&E’s troubles. The company took an $11.5 billion charge against earnings, including $10.5 billion from the Camp Fire and an additional $1 billion from the 2017 fires. Previously, the company had recorded a $2.5 billion charge from the 2017 fires, which swept through Northern California’s wine country and parts of the Sacramento Valley.

“The charges represent a portion of the previously announced estimate of potential wildfire liabilities, which could exceed more than $30 billion,” the company said.

The charges plunged PG&E into the red for 2018; the company announced a loss of $6.9 billion for the year. PG&E stock fell 20 cents a share in early New York Stock Exchange trading, to $17.60.

Source: https://www.modbee.com/news/state/california/article226921019.html

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Santa Cruz Man Shot Big Sur Firefighter Receives 14 years Probation

Santa Cruz man who shot Big Sur firefighter pleads out for 14 years probation, treatment

A man who shot a firefighter in Big Sur in 2017 and has brain damage from an electrocution years before has agreed to a plea deal of 14 years on probation and at least one year in a secure mental health facility.

Jacob Thomas Kirkendall, 27, of Santa Cruz, pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of resisting arrest in Monterey County Superior Court Wednesday morning as part of the deal.

"It's such a different disposition," said Judge Pamela Butler.

The Monterey County District Attorney's Office had accused Kirkendall of shooting on-duty U.S. Forest Service firefighter Peter Harris with a shotgun on Dec. 11, 2017, according to court records.

"He was having a manic episode and mental breakdown," said Kenneth Rosenfeld, Kirkendall's attorney.

Harris has since recovered but still has bullet fragments in his neck and head, Rosenfeld said.

Kirkendall suffered brain damage 7 years ago when he was electrocuted by throwing water on a fire, not knowing there was a live power line amid the flames.

The current traveled up the water and burned parts of his brain, including the part responsible for judgment, Rosenfeld said. Kirkendall spent about 100 days in a medically induced coma.



Jacob Kirkendall
(Photo: Provided/MONTEREY COUNTY JAIL)


That means it's impossible to say what exactly was going through Kirkendall's head when he opened fire on Harris, Rosenfeld said.

Kirkendall was in his vehicle in a remote part of Big Sur when he opened fire on Harris with a shotgun, Rosenfeld said. He didn't have the exact address readily available.

Kirkendall then drove away but was arrested by the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, Rosenfeld said.

He eventually encountered deputies, who opened fire on him after he threatened them with his vehicle, according to court records. They did not hit him, but did hit his vehicle, the records show.

He originally faced attempted murder of a peace officer charges, assault with a deadly weapon charges for his alleged attacks with his vehicle and the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rosenfeld said he's been working with prosecutors for months to hammer out the "extraordinarily fair" deal.

"I think all parties recognize this was a special, individual case of somebody who had severe brain damage," he said, adding he's never had a client receive a 14-year probation sentence.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Knight told Judge Butler that Harris approved of the plea deal.

Kirkendall will be required to spend at least a year at Alpine Special Treatment Center in San Diego.

"It's not like he's getting out. He's going to be in a locked facility," Rosenfeld said.

He could spend more time there because he won't be released until it's approved by both Alpine's medical staff and Butler, Knight said.

If they sign off on his release, he would still have to attend an outpatient mental health program, Rosenfeld said.

Kirkendall will be responsible for all treatment expenses, including refunding the sheriff's office for his transportation, Knight said.

In addition, Butler said Kirkendall will be on formal probation for up to 14 years and eight months.

"If he violates his probation, he will go to prison without any (time-served) credits," she said.

He has been in the Monterey County Jail since his arrest, jail records show. He also will be barred from driving and owning any firearm for the rest of his life, Butler noted.

During the hearing, Kirkendall said little besides entering his plea and telling Butler he understood the conditions of his deal.

After the hearing, his parents referred questions to Rosenfeld.

The deal is scheduled to be finalized Friday morning in court after some routine legal hurdles are cleared, Rosenfeld said. He has a bed reserved at the facility starting Monday.

Friday, February 15, 2019

San Francisco Firehouse Cat Faces Eviction

San Francisco Fire Department officials are telling Station 49 that Edna, a feral cat that's been visiting the firehouse for the past four years, has to go.

HANNAH FRY FEBRUARY 11, 2019 LOS ANGELES TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, FIRE DEPARTMENT - Dalmatians might be the most well-known firehouse mascot, but a tortoiseshell cat named Edna has purred her way into the hearts of firefighters at a San Francisco station.

Edna began visiting Fire Station 49 as a feral kitten four years ago and since then has made the station her home. Now, firefighters are reportedly being told to get rid of her.

“We slowly started to show her love and care, and she [became] our family,” station employees wrote in an email to SF Gate, adding that the cat helps relieve employees’ stress. “Now she is always there, and is the most docile, loving baby. We take her to the vet now, give her treats and she calls our station home now.”

KGO-TV reported that firefighters suspect an anonymous caller complained about Edna being around firefighting equipment. In response, Fire Department officials have asked the station to remove the cat, according to the news station.

An employee who answered the phone at Station 49 on Monday declined to comment on the situation and referred The Times to a department spokesman. He did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Photos on Edna’s Instagram account show firefighters and staff cuddling and petting the feline. Using the hashtag #ednastays, the group is asking the public to send emails to department leaders to convince them to allow Edna to remain at the station.

Employees referred to Edna as the “station angel” in an Instagram post celebrating National Cat Day in October. The photo captured a sleeping Edna curled on a blanket.

“You’re purrfect,” they wrote.

Late Monday afternoon, the Fire Department said Edna has been adopted by a member of its ambulance staff.

The department added that it has had a policy prohibiting animals on its property for more than 20 years and that the removal order was for Edna’s own safety.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

———

©2019 the Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Judge: No More Arrests in CA Ghost Ship Fire Case

A defense motion asking for 14 more people to be arrested in connection with the fatal Oakland warehouse fire in 2016 was denied by the judge in the case.

BY ANGELA RUGGIERO
FEBRUARY 12, 2019
EAST BAY TIMES

Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire(CA)
The view outside the scorched Ghost Ship warehouse building in Oakland, CA. The blaze tore through the two-story building on the 1300 block of 31st Avenue, killing 36 people. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/BAY AREA NEWS GROUP/TNS

OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s a rare move to see defendants ask for more defendants to join them in a criminal case, but a judge denied a motion Monday asking for 14 more people to be arrested in the Ghost Ship fire case.

Attorneys for defendants Derick Almena and Max Harris filed the motion to compel a citizen’s arrest, which called for the arrest of 14 others for the fatal Dec. 2, 2016, warehouse fire in East Oakland that killed 36 people. Included in the list was landlord Chor Ng, and her children Eva and Kai Ng, who served as building managers.

The motion itself alleged probable cause to arrest the list of 14 people, who in the months and years leading up to the deadly fire had all been inside the warehouse itself either as inspectors or partygoers, and knew of the dangers inside. The list includes a building inspector, a Child Protective Services agent, fire department members and Oakland police officers who responded to calls at the warehouse, named the Ghost Ship.

Although Judge Trina Thompson said Monday that she was “intrigued” by the motion in this case, she pointed out that the judicial branch did not have the power to bring charges against anyone.

Just before denying the motion after lengthy arguments by both the prosecution and the defense, Judge Thompson also pointed out that her ruling did not preclude the defense from bringing evidence on a third-party culpability. This defense strategy is used by attorneys to present evidence that points to another person or people, besides the defendants themselves.

Prosecutor Autrey James argued that there was insufficient evidence so far to bring charges against the Ngs “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the standard of proof in criminal cases.

District Attorney Nancy O’Malley herself told this newspaper last year that prosecutors could not “pin that” responsibility on the warehouse owner, the Ng family. But she also said prosecutors have not given up the possibility, if some new evidence comes to light.

James also argued that the arrest of individuals is a “discretionary act,” and that arrests cannot be ordered.

Almena’s defense attorney, Tony Serra, pointed the finger at politics and a public relations firm for the lack of arrest of others besides his client.

“There is a white elephant in the courtroom that no one is acknowledging … that this is a political case,” Serra said.

Serra referred to the alleged $90,000 hiring of Sam Singer, a well-known crisis manager who has a public relations firm based in San Francisco. Serra maintained Singer was hired to influence prosecutors so that the Ng family, fire department, inspectors and others would not be charged. Serra said it was “obvious” that the landlords should be charged.

Singer told this newspaper in January that he was hired to represent the Ng family to assist in communication issues surrounding the tragedy.

“I’m honored that anyone would speak so highly of my work, but there’s no truth in me making charges go away,” Singer said in January.

Tyler Smith, an attorney who represents Harris, said in his arguments Monday that Eva Ng knew when the lease was being signed for the warehouse by Almena and others that the use of the building was being changed. The warehouse, formerly used for dairy storage, was to be used for an artist warehouse, for public outreach and gatherings. Because the owners themselves had the legal duty to make sure the warehouse was safe, everything can be traced back to Eva Ng, Smith argued.

He said if the Ngs had properly followed the rules, the building would have had sprinklers, illuminated exit signs, smoke detectors and other safety measures that the prosecution has argued for against Harris and Almena, Smith said.

Smith also said her brother, Kai Ng, was told that people were living at the warehouse.

As reported by this news organization, police had visited the warehouse a year before the fire and knew of illegal parties. There were also reports from witnesses that firefighters from a nearby station had not only entered the Ghost Ship but also had attended a party there. An off-duty firefighter also attended his wife’s work holiday party there, according to records.

But the prosecution has maintained that it was the reckless actions of Almena and Harris that caused the deaths of the 36 people trapped inside the warehouse.

———

©2019 East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


CAL FIRE / USFS Mariposa 2019 Fireline Safety Awareness For Hired Vendors

2019 Fire line Safety Awareness For Hired Vendors

8hrs required annually for fire-line assignments with CAL FIRE and USFS

We have the following 6 Dates available:
March 22, 2019 March 23, 2019
April 5, 2019
April 12, 2019 April 13, 2019
April 27, 2019
Mariposa Fairgrounds, Build. D 8am – 5pm

Class limited to 40 students per session $60.00 per person
Advanced registration with payment required, limited seats available

This year State Fire Training will Require you SFT ID number. Please go
to the link below to see if they have your number before you get to class
Send payment with contact information to

Contact: Mike Mills
5514 Meadow Lane
Mariposa, Ca. 95338
209-617-2483
mrpsmike@sti.net

If you believe your social security number is on file with SFT then you
may use the Legacy SFT ID Look Up tool
(https://apps.cce.csus.edu/sites/stateFIre/) . This web
page will ask for your name and last four of your SSN. If there is a
match, the page will display your SFT ID number


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ventura County Sheriff SAR Team member killed, two injured in accident #CALODD

We regret to pass on that a member of the Ventura County Search-and-Rescue Team was killed in the Line Of Duty and two others were critically injured in a crash

The multi-vehicle accident involved a total of 10 patients (including an LA County Firefighter) on the 5 Freeway near Pyramid Lake during a heavy rainstorm around 0730 this morning.

A total of 3 rescue team members were involved in the collision. One of them was pronounced dead, another is in critical condition and a third suffered minor injuries. 7 other people were involved in the wreck as well.

One of the rescue teams were on their way to a training exercise when they came upon the initial traffic crash at Vista Del Lago-in Los Angeles County. They stopped to help and while there, a vehicle plowed into the scene.

The identity of the deceased search-and-rescue team member was not immediately released.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

CAL FIRE Denied Access to Private Firefighting Crews Sent by Insurance Companies

CAL FIRE Denied Access to Private Firefighting Crews Sent by Insurance Companies

It is statewide policy not to admit ‘civilians’ during an evacuation order, and that includes private firefighters.

A number of Malibu residents’ homeowners insurance policies include the use of private firefighting companies that work independently from county firefighters. The private crews protect specific homes under contract with insurance companies, and attempt to arrive ahead of the flames. These companies have been around since the 1980s, but have become even more common and in-demand as the risk of major wildfires in California has increased over the years.

The private crews emphasize doing fire prevention work as quickly as possible around an individual house in advance of the fire. They will rake leaves, clear gutters, remove debris from roofs, close windows and vents, spray retardant on brush, and, in some cases, spray the house with gel to protect it from flying embers. They’ll also remove stacked wood, clear brush and patio furniture cushions, and anything else around the house that’s highly flammable. Their fleet trucks carry water for putting out hot spots.

While benefits seem obvious for insurance companies, statewide fire officials point out they complicate firefighting efforts for central command, since they cannot communicate readily with rank-and-file crews. Now, in the fallout of the Woolsey Fire—where resources were spread so thin many homes did not see any fire engines at all—questions are being asked about why private crews were turned away.

Malibu resident Ron Krisel, who is insured by USAA (only available to active, retired and honorably discharged members of the U.S. military), was eligible for the services of a private firefighting crew. However, he was notified by USAA that when their crew checked in with the joint command for the Woolsey Fire, they were told by CAL FIRE that they would not be allowed to come into Malibu and, something to the effect that, if they disobeyed, they would never be allowed in during a fire from now on.

Krisel’s house burned down the day after the fire came through—a casualty of still-blowing embers. He feels strongly that if the private crew contracted by USAA had been allowed to come in, his house would’ve been saved—they would’ve kept an eye on the burning embers and hot spots and put them out before the house caught fire. County firefighters never showed up.

When The Malibu Times contacted Scott McLean, public information officer for CAL FIRE Woolsey Fire, to ask why, he said he wasn’t familiar with this particular incident, and would only be able to talk about their policy in general.

McLean verified that private fire companies must check in with the authorities at the joint command to show documentation from the insurance company and the address of the specific house.

“It’s a common thing—no big deal. We rarely turn them away,” McLean said. “But if there’s an evacuation order for the area the house is in, they cannot come in.” That’s the most obvious reason why the crew coming to Krisel’s house was turned away—the Malibu evacuation order must have already been in effect.

McLean explained they consider private firefighters to be civilians, regardless of the firefighting experience and training they may have. In addition, he said they “do not just drop hoses on the ground and start fighting a fire” the way county firefighters do. “They’re not part of the [official] fire service” or chain of command.

“From the standpoint of first responders, they are not viewed as assets to be deployed. They’re viewed as a responsibility,” Carroll Wills, communications director for California Professional Firefighters, a labor union representing rank-and-file firefighters in the state, told the LA Times.

During a wildfire, the private crews say they may not be able to visit every home insured under the program, but prioritize based on the fire’s movement and where homes have a high likelihood of being destroyed without their assistance.

As the danger of fire has increased in recent years, so has the use of private firefighters by insurance companies like USAA, Chubb, AIG, Liberty Mutual, Safeco and Nationwide. While some offer the service as an “opt-in” benefit that costs extra money, others, like USAA and Chubb, have made it a standard part of their policy.

One of the largest private firefighting companies, Wildfire Defense Systems, has contracts with a dozen different insurance companies, but doesn’t contract with individuals. When the Woolsey, Hill and Camp fires broke out last month, they deployed 53 firetrucks, more than 100 firefighters and 50 workers in California, David Torgerson, president, told the LA Times. He said only about five percent of such companies contract with individuals.

For insurance companies, the benefits of private firefighters are obvious—it’s cheaper to send them out to save a $5 million property than it would be to replace the house and its contents.

Source: http://www.malibutimes.com/news/article_3cc7a832-0a0e-11e9-a550-1ffe68b8e7ae.html?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The stand at Rattlesnake Flats: A sudden change of wind leaves two firefighter inmates, captain facing wall of flame during #CampFire

Camp Fire: The stand at Rattlesnake Flats: A sudden change of wind leaves two firefighter inmates, captain facing wall of flame

Cal Fire report compares Paradise conflagration to WWII’s Operation Gomorrah

A Cal Fire graphic details what happened when the Camp Fire burned over a fire captain and two inmate firefighters on Nov. 8. (Cal Fire) 


PARADISE — By the early afternoon of Nov. 8, the Camp Fire had consumed Paradise and was headed southwest toward Chico and Oroville.

A hand strike team of Cal Fire firefighters and California prison inmates was sent to the front lines. They had to help protect Butte College in Oroville and the heavily populated areas nearby.

Two teams headed up Clark Road and began scouting areas to set back fires, to try and burn up fuel so the incoming fiery beast had nothing left to devour.

As they stood along Rattlesnake Flats Road — an undulating, one-lane dirt farm road flanked by barbed wire fences — the favorable winds suddenly switched directions and picked up velocity. The fire had them trapped. Two inmates and a fire captain would be seriously burned in the lightning quick event, but survive.

The harrowing story of the Cal Fire crew and their inmate colleagues had not been publicly reported until Friday when state fire investigators released a Green Report, launched after any firefighter injuries or deaths. Despite claiming at least 86 civilian lives, no firefighters died in the blaze, although five were injured. The report’s account of two close calls during the first 24 hours of the firefight is proof that the outcome could have easily been much different.

In addition to the Rattlesnake Flats incident, an exploding propane tank launched shrapnel at two firefighters protecting a home in Magalia. All but one of the firefighters were released from the hospital the same day, except the Cal Fire captain from Rattlesnake Flats, who was finally released from the hospital last week, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said.

Was he surprised the state’s deadliest and most destructive fire didn’t leave a bigger firefighter toll?

“Seriously, yes,” McLean said. “Six firefighter deaths this year alone. Don’t know why none on the Camp.”

The report further emphasizes the destructive weather patterns and dry vegetation that created an “urban firestorm” that gobbled up 76 acres a minute with embers igniting spot fires a mile ahead. Those small fires would become 200-acre conflagrations within minutes, investigators said.

The report compared the blaze to the firestorm that wiped out the German city of Hamburg during the height of World War II. An Allied bombing run called “Operation Gomorrah” in July 1943, boosted by dry conditions and intense winds created an “urban firestorm” that killed 42,600 civilians and wounded 37,000 more.

By 2:45 p.m. Nov. 8, the Camp fire had devastated Paradise and was feeding off vegetation and making its way out of the foothills. The two hand strike teams positioned along Rattlesnake Flats Road watched as 10- to 15-foot-high flames shot across the road, blocking both directions.

Both crews feverishly attempted to set back fires to get a small buffer from the advancing flames, but managed only about 20 feet, according to the report.

The first inmate ran toward the flames to escape, but was stopped by the fence. He suffered burns on his face and neck. A second firefighter ran the opposite direction. He leapt over the barbed wire fence but a tool on his belt caught and he fell to the ground. Flames ignited his hair, beard and mustache and left him with burns on his face and neck, the report said.

State prison officials would not confirm where the inmates were jailed but released their ages, 30 and 27. The 30-year-old was treated and released and the 27-year-old had burns over 3 percent of his body and spent more than one day in the hospital, a state prison spokesperson said.

A Cal Fire captain at the site received serious burns to his hands, arms, face and neck, and lay on the dirt road after the fire swept past. A strike team leader drove to the scene at 3 p.m. “where he observed inmate firefighters attempting to provide medical care to (the fire captain).”

He called in the emergency, but radio transmissions were so busy, no one heard his call for medical aid. By 3:30 p.m., the injured men were all removed by ambulance.

“(They were) very fortunate,” McLean said. “There were propane tanks exploding everywhere. And yes with respect to the crew (the fire) was there at a moment’s notice and they were standing in it.”

The second incident happened Nov. 9 around 5 a.m. in Magalia. Crews saw a spot fire near a house on Chestnut Circle and began protecting the home from the flames. Without warning, a 250-gallon propane tank exploded more than 200 feet away. A fire captain was hit by burning sticks, branches, pine cones, bark and molten aluminum, while a nearby firefighter was hit with embers and pieces of fence. Both received face and neck burns, the report said.

On Thursday, firefighters were honored at an appreciation dinner at The Palms, an event center in Chico.

“I am in awe of what they did to save the people of my community,” said Paradise Mayor Jody Jones, who spoke at the dinner. “They are true heroes. I am so sorry that some of them were injured.

“It’s really amazing that they got most everyone out and they got out.”

Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/12/14/cal-fire-report-compares-camp-fire-to-wwii-bombing-firestorm-details-firefighter-injuries/

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer." --Abraham Lincoln

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