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California Fires — Sorting Through the Ruins & Causes

Posted By Staff Reporter, Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Estimates are in that say California’s Camp Fire losses will be somewhere between $11 and $13 billion. For the Woolsey Fire in Southern California the figure will be $4 billion to $6 billion.

CoreLogic says the two fires are looking at a total of somewhere between $15 billion and $19 billion.

Breaking it down a bit more, residential losses for Northern California’s Camp Fire that destroyed 14,000 homes and businesses in Paradise, and killed 88 people (so far, over 200 are still missing) will be $8 billion to $9 billion. Commercial losses there will be $3 billion to $4 billion.

The Woolsey Fire’s residential damages will be $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion and commercial losses much lower at $500 million.

Judge William Alsup is the District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. He is overseeing the criminal case against Pacific Gas & Electric from eight-years ago in which the company was found guilty for negligence for a natural gas pipe explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

Last week the judge ordered PG&E to explain any role it may have — have not had — in the Camp Fire. Before he passes final sentence in the eight-year old case, the judge wants to know if anything the company did around Paradise caused damages.

Apparently, about 18-minutes before the fire began in Paradise, PG&E said one of its power poles wasn’t working.

Democrat Assemblyman Chris Holden is looking to help PG&E and other utilities with a bill he says he’ll introduce in January. Utilities want changes in California’s the law that say no matter how careful they are they with their equipment — and even if their equipment causes damages through the proverbial act of God — they are automatically responsible for damages from fires or other disasters caused by their equipment.

It’s called inverse condemnation and Holden said, “We laid out a 2019 strategy and we need to see how well that works, if and when we ever get back to a place of thinking we need to revisit inverse condemnation.”

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E to implement the new safety recommendations that were recommended by the commission’s independent third-party report. These recommendations are from the same case Judge Alsup is adjudicating.

CPUC President Michael Picker said, “Although there are a few bright spots, PG&E appears not to have a clear vision for safety programs and instead pursues many programs without thought to how they fit together, despite eight years passing since the explosion in San Bruno.”

The next crisis coming to the dozens of areas impacted by fire in the state last spring, summer and this fall is rain. Dr. Chris Renschler is an expert in water and soil at New York’s University at Buffalo. He said trees and other vegetation has burned away.

“This means the soil absorbs much less water than before, if any, [which] can lead to increased surface runoff, creating a higher risk of flash floods and landslides that can endanger both people and property,” he said.

Renschler pointed out that it is equally important for people living downstream from burned areas to pay close attention to rain and water. “Even with less extreme runoff after a storm, ash with all kinds of contaminants — all these toxins — are being rushed down into streams and rivers. From an ecological perspective, streams will be impacted," he said.

One big problem the state — and other wildfire impacted states have — is little or no experience with the problem. “One of the biggest problems now is that these fires are happening with a frequency and a scale that we haven’t seen before. The sheer size of these burned areas changes the conditions of the landscape in terms of its land cover and rainfall-runoff behavior,” Renschler added.

Source links: PropertyCasualty360.com, The Press Democrat, Insurance Journal — link 1, link 2, AccuWeather

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