Reduce Wildfire Damage and Lower Energy Bills by Freeing Up Markets

Power electricShortly before wildfires such as the Camp and Woolsey fires ravaged Northern and Southern California, respectively, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a contentious bill making it easier for the state’s investor-owned utilities — primarily, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — to recover wildfire costs from ratepayers, but don’t expect the flames to die down anytime soon.

The legislation arose out of the calamitous wildfires the state has experienced the past couple of years and utilities’ fears about their abilities to cover potentially billions of dollars in damages. PG&E faces a possible $15 billion liability for wildfires that wreaked havoc on Northern California’s wine country last year, and contends that it might be forced into bankruptcy if the California Public Utilities Commission does not allow it to cover the costs with rate increases on consumers. Senate Bill 901, authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), largely sidestepped the broader reforms Gov. Brown had sought to reduce liability exposure for the utilities.

California law is unusual in that utilities may be held liable for fire damage caused by their equipment even if they were not negligent in maintaining it and followed all safety rules (such as wind blowing a tree down onto power lines and sparking a blaze). SB 901 did, however, direct the CPUC to consider PG&E’s financial status in deciding its liability for the 2017 fires, and may allow the company to pass along costs it cannot financially bear (however that is determined) in the form of bonds to be paid by ratepayers over time.

The legislation also requires utilities to beef up protections of their equipment, and provides some much-needed relaxing of logging restrictions on private land. A greater focus on wildfire prevention efforts such as removing excess fuel through vegetation clearing and controlled burns is also long overdue, and will be funded to the tune of $200 million a year for five years from the state’s cap-and-trade fund. Environmental policies preventing thinning to keep forests in a “natural” state, as well as drought conditions and a bark beetle infestation that have killed millions of trees, have created tinderbox conditions and significantly exacerbated wildfire damage. The money would go a lot farther, though, if the forest-thinning services were competitively bid instead of just doled out to Cal Fire.

In fact, privatization of wildfire services in general would likely substantially reduce costs. Approximately 40 percent of all wildfire services are already provided by the private sector, according to the National Wildfire Suppression Association, which represents more than 250 companies in 27 states employing about 10,000 private firefighters and support personnel.

The state should also stop interfering in insurance markets. An August study prepared for the California Natural Resources Agency by the RAND Corporation and Greenware Tech noted that insurers complain that the California Department of Insurance prevents them from using probabilistic wildfire models to project future losses and has not allowed them to raise homeowners insurance rates high enough to cover the full risk-based cost of policies in high-risk areas, which would discourage building in the most fire-prone locations.

Despite the significant risk to which it exposes investor-owned utilities in the state, strict liability is probably appropriate under the existing regulatory system. It is the same compensatory standard to which governmental agencies are held, and, as the state courts have noted, the eminent domain powers granted to electric utility companies under the Public Utilities Code and the government-protected monopolies under which they operate make them more akin to public agencies than unfettered private companies. Under such a system, where utilities face no competition and property owners cannot opt out if they are targeted for eminent domain action, it makes sense to spread the costs of wildfires among the utilities and their customers, who all share the benefits of the utilities’ electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.

That said, the existing regulatory system is at fault for creating “too big to fail” regional utility monopolies in the first place. A central planning commission that grants monopoly rights and dictates prices and “acceptable” profit levels sounds more characteristic of a socialist or totalitarian state like North Korea or the Soviet Union, but that is the state of energy markets in California.

A better solution would be to open up competition by eliminating regional government-granted energy monopolies with eminent domain powers and treating the provision of electricity like other goods and services. Fully privatizing the energy and insurance markets and eliminating government monopoly protections would do much more to reduce energy costs, increase innovation and reduce losses from wildfire damage than any measures currently being discussed in Sacramento.

esearch fellow at the Oakland based Independent Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Burning – How the Greens Turned the Golden State Brown

Thomas FireIn October 2016, in a coordinated act of terrorism that received fleeting attention from the press, environmentalist activists broke into remote flow stations and turned off the valves on pipelines carrying crude oil from Canada into the United States. Working simultaneously in Washington, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota, the eco-terrorists disrupted pipelines that together transport 2.8 million barrels of oil per day, approximately 15 percent of U.S. consumption. The pretext for this action was to protest the alleged “catastrophe” of global warming.

These are the foot soldiers of environmental extremism. These are the minions whose militancy receives nods and winks from opportunistic politicians and “green” investors who make climate alarmism the currency of their political and commercial success.

More recently, and far more tragic, are the latest round of California wildfires that have consumed nearly a quarter million acres, killed at least 87 people, and caused damages estimated in excess of $10 billion.

Opinions vary regarding how much of this disaster could have been avoided, but nobody disputes that more could have been done. Everyone agrees, for example, that overall, aggressive fire suppression has been a mistake. Most everyone agrees that good prevention measures include forest thinning (especially around power lines), selective logging, controlled burns, and power line upgrades. And everyone agrees that residents in fire prone areas need to create defensible space and fire-harden their homes.

Opinions also vary as to whether or not environmentalists stood in the way of these prevention measures. In a blistering critique published earlier this week on the California-focused Flash Report, investigative journalist Katy Grimes cataloged the negligence resulting from environmentalist overreach.

“For decades,” Grimes notes, “traditional forest management was scientific and successful — that is until ideological, preservationist zealots wormed their way into government and began the overhaul of sound federal forest management through abuse of the Endangered Species Act and the ‘re-wilding, no-use movement.’”

U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, whose Northern California district includes the Yosemite Valley and the Tahoe National Forest, told Grimes that the U.S. Forest Service 40 years ago departed from “well-established and time-tested forest management practices.”

“We replaced these sound management practices with what can only be described as a doctrine of benign neglect,” McClintock explained. “Ponderous, byzantine laws and regulations administered by a growing cadre of ideological zealots in our land management agencies promised to ‘save the environment.’ The advocates of this doctrine have dominated our law, our policies, our courts and our federal agencies ever since.”

Grimes goes on to outline the specific missteps at the federal level that led to America’s forests turning into tinderboxes, starting in the Clinton Administration and made worse, thanks to activist judges, by thwarting reforms attempted by the Bush Administration, and accelerating during the complicit Obama presidency.

All of this lends credence to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s fresh allegations of forest mismanagement. But what really matters is what happens next.

Institutionalized Environmental Extremism

California’s 2018 wildfires have been unusually severe, but they were not historic firsts. This year’s unprecedented level of destruction and deaths are the result of home building in fire prone areas, and not because of wildfires of unprecedented scope. And while the four-year drought that ended in 2016 left a legacy of dead trees and brush, it was forest mismanagement that left those forests overly vulnerable to droughts in the first place.

Based on these facts, smart policy responses would be first to reform forest management regulations to expedite public and privately funded projects to reduce the severity of future wildfires, and second, to streamline the permit process to allow the quick reconstruction of new, fire-hardened homes.

But neither outcome is likely, and the reason should come as no surprise — we are asked to believe that it’s not observable failures in policy and leadership that caused all this destruction and death, it’s “man-made climate change.”

Gov. Jerry Brown is a convenient boogeyman for climate realists, since his climate alarmism is as unrelenting as it is hyperbolic. But Brown is just one of the stars in an out-of-control environmental movement that is institutionalized in California’s legislature, courts, mass media, schools and corporations.

Fighting climate change is the imperative, beyond debate, that justified the Golden State passing laws and regulations such as California Environmental Quality Actthe Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, and numerous others at the state and local level. They make it nearly impossible to build affordable homes, develop energy, or construct reservoirs, aqueducts, desalination plants, nuclear power plants, pipelines, freeways, or any other essential infrastructure that requires so much as a scratch in the ground.

Expect tepid progress on new preventive measures, in a state so mired in regulations and litigation that for every dollar spent paying heavy equipment operators and loggers to do real work, twice that much or more will go to pay consultants, attorneys, and public bureaucrats. Expect “climate change” to be used as a pretext for more “smart growth,” which translates into “stack and pack,” whereby people will be herded out of rural areas through punishing financial disincentives and forced into densely populated urban areas, where they can join the scores of thousands of refugees that California is welcoming from all over the world.

Ruling Class Hypocrisy

Never forget, according to the conventional wisdom as prescribed by California’s elites, if you don’t like it, you are a climate change “denier,” a “xenophobe,” and a “racist.”

California’s elites enjoy their gated communities, while the migrants who cut their grass and clean their floors go home to subsidized accessory dwelling units in the backyards of the so-called middle class whose taxes pay for it all. They are hypocrites.

But it is these elites who are the real deniers.

They pretend that natural disasters are “man-made,” so they can drive up the cost of living and reap the profits when the companies they invest in sell fewer products and services for more money in a rationed, anti-competitive environment.

They pretend this is sustainable; that wind farms and solar batteries can supply adequate power to teeming masses crammed into power-sipping, “smart growth” high rises. But they’re tragically wrong.

Here the militant environmentalists offer a reality check. Cutting through their predictable, authoritarian, psychotically intolerant rants that incorporate every leftist shibboleth imaginable, the “Deep Green Resistance” website offers a remarkably lucid and fact-based debunking of “green technology and renewable energy.” Their solution, is to “create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

These deep green militants want to “destroy industrial civilization.” At their core, they are misanthropic nihilists—but at least they’re honest. By contrast, California’s stylish elites are driving humanity in slow motion towards this same dire future, cloaked in denial, veiled coercion, and utopian fantasies.

This is the issue that underlies the California wildfires, what causes them and what to do about them. What is a “sustainable” civilization? One that embraces human settlements, has faith in human ingenuity, and aspires to make all humans prosperous enough to care about the environment, everywhere? Or one that demands Draconian limits on human settlement, with no expectation that innovation can provide solutions we can’t currently imagine, and condemns humans to police-state rationing of everything we produce and consume?

That is the stark choice that underlies the current consensus of California’s elites, backed up by dangerous and growing cadres of fanatical militants.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Even California Cannot Defy Nature Forever

A wildfire rages in Buck Meadows, in the Yosemite National ParkCalifornia has been clouded under a blanket of smoke for weeks. Stanford University, where I work, sent students and faculty home early for Thanksgiving. The campus is more than 200 miles southwest of the 150,000-acre Camp Fire that just incinerated the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Paradise, and yet the entire Bay Area has been buried under collateral haze for days. I am a fifth-generation native Californian and remember many horrific Sierra Nevada fires, but never anything remotely comparable to the blazes of 2018.

Here in Fresno County, in the San Joaquin Valley, positioned between the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada mountains, the stagnant air for weeks has remained as polluted as China’s. When the normal northerlies blew, we were smoked in from the Camp Fire, 250 miles to the north. When the rarer southerlies took over, some of the smoke from the 100,000-acre Woolsey fire in the canyons of Malibu arrived from 230 miles distant.

July and August were nearly as incendiary as November. The huge, 450,000-acre Mendocino County conflagrations, the horrific Shasta-area Carr fire (nearly a half-million acres), and the nearby Ferguson fire in the Madera foothills all combined to make the air nearly unbreathable for two months throughout the Central Valley. Yet Californians in the irrigated center of the state were the lucky ones, breathing smoke rather than seeing fires overwhelm their homes and communities.

What is going on in California? Governor Jerry Brown, most of the Democratic-majority state legislature, the academy, and the administrative state have rushed to blame man-made global warming for the undeniable dry spell from May to mid-November that turned mountain canyons into tinderboxes. Usually autumn rains keep hillsides wet enough to prevent sudden combustions when the late autumn winds kick up. Not this year. Yet, if California has been arid and rainless these past months, two years ago we experienced near-record snow and rain that started in early fall and continued into late spring. Last year, we saw near-normal levels of precipitation.

If our life-giving reservoirs of the state’s vast California Water Project and federal Central Valley Project are currently not full, it is mostly because millions of acre-feet of stored water were released to flow into the San Francisco Bay estuaries and the delta—contradicting most of the original mandates of the water projects of providing flood control, power generation, lake recreation, and irrigation for California residents. Our ancestors rightly had assumed that two-thirds of the state’s people would continue to live where one-third of the state’s precipitation fell, requiring vast water transfers aimed exclusively for municipal and irrigation needs, admittedly at the expense of nineteenth-century whitewater rivers, flood plains, and riparian landscapes. Protecting the delta smelt population in San Francisco Bay, or restoring ancient salmon runs in the San Joaquin River, were not the concerns of these farseeing water engineers, who never imagined that their envisioned third-generation water projects would either be cancelled outright or would fail to keep pace with California’s burgeoning growth.

Left unsaid is that more than 130 million trees died throughout the state’s foothills and mountain ranges during the drought of 2011–2016 and were not removed from the forest floor, providing an immensity of natural kindling for fires. To walk in a Sierra Nevada forest during summers requires navigating not just over fallen limbs and branches, but also rotting trees—all amid dead brush and dead but still-towering brown pines. Gone are the periodic meadows and open spaces of the 1960s and 1970s, when logging companies harvested trees, thinned out the forests, replanted what was cut, and cleaned up the forest floor. Yet given California’s stringent anti-logging regulations of the last 20 years, there is no real California timber industry left, at least as it once was. And scavenging even dead trees prompts a great debate, as environmentalists lecture on the advantages of letting the dead wood be. Or, as Sierra Club organizer Daniel Barad put it in a January 2018 Sacramento Bee op-ed: “Dead trees are vital components of the forest ecosystem and should be removed only when necessary.” He added of the state’s millions of dead conifers: “Most are in remote areas, and removing them would be extremely costly and ecologically devastating. The black-backed woodpecker, northern fisher and northern spotted owl are among the species that rely on dead tree habitat . . . Also, dead trees store carbon for decades. As they decompose, much of their carbon returns to the soil, where it is held for thousands of years. In a large-scale removal, all that carbon is disturbed.” Perhaps Sierra Club environmental sensitivity is well-meant, but such orthodoxy ensures that the summer and autumn air that 40 million residents breathe, along with the lives of thousands living in the mountains, become secondary concerns to beetles and woodpeckers.

Other force multipliers combined with the drought and poor forest management to ensure that California’s fires were especially destructive to human habitats. One, California is no longer a state where most live along a coastal strip or in the flat, irrigated Central Valley. For a variety of economic, political, and cultural reasons, millions have flocked to the Coast Range canyons near the ocean that offer cheaper home sites and less chilly morning and evening weather. Looking down from a plane at night over the California Sierra Nevada foothills no longer reveals a sea of darkness, but rather millions of lights sparkling from private homes. Again, for many such rural refugees, Sierra Nevada foothill living is cheaper and quieter than the sprawling, congested metropolises of Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield. Fifty years ago, many of these fires would have taken out isolated cattle ranches, power stations, and a few homesteaders. Now they threaten entire communities.

Two, given its length and long parallel mountain ranges, California is a longitudinal state, with its rails and freeways mostly running north and south, such as the 101, I-5, and 99 corridors. It’s difficult to travel latitudinally across California. Environmentalists and no-growth activists cancelled many of the envisioned auxiliary trans-Sierra and trans-Coast Range routes long ago. Few good highways exist into and out of the coastal and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges that might allow quick and safe access for firefighting and evacuation teams.

Roads between mountain communities are windy, narrow, and often potholed and crumbling (California remains near last in state-by-state infrastructure ratings, though it will soon have the nation’s highest gas taxes). For many foothill residents, the ensuing lack of traffic and easy mountain access is seen as a sort of blessing, ensuring privacy and a lack of tourism. Unfortunately, the net result of both poor and too few roads was that when wind-swept fires leapt through canyons and up hillsides, it was almost impossible to escape rural communities and private residences with any rapidity. And so, homes burned down and people died.

In a larger sense, twenty-first-century California is starting to confront the real-life consequences of its own abstract ideologies—on several tragic fronts. The nearly five-year drought taught us that entire communities and vast irrigated acreages could disappear if we ignored our forefathers’ warnings to keep building reservoirs, aqueducts, and dams commensurately with population growth, and to abide by the original rationale of these multi-billion-dollar projects. Open borders and sanctuary cities appear humanitarian, but when the result was the arrival of millions of impoverished immigrants without legal status, English fluency, and high school diplomas, state resources once prioritized for roads, bridges, canals, reservoirs, and airports were directed to accommodate vast expansions of social-welfare programs. The idea of ending close state supervision of those suffering from psychological disorders and mental illnesses, when combined with strict zoning and environmental laws that stymied new low-cost housing construction, led to hundreds of thousands of homeless living on the sidewalks of the state’s temperate coastal cities, from San Diego to Berkley. Medieval plagues like typhus and infectious hepatitis are often the result.

These same paradoxes help explain the 2018 epidemic of destructive forest fires, a tragic consequence of ideology trumping reality and common sense. Once upon a time, the architects of state governance understood that living in paradise required constant investments and vigilance against the vagaries of both Mother Nature and human nature, whether that meant managed forestry, road construction, reasonable building codes, or water storage and transfers. In theory, at least, millions of dead trees may have been ecological assets for a near pristine, mid-twentieth-century California of 10 million people. But such natural kindling can pose an existential danger to a complex civilization of 40 million twentieth-first century state residents.

Californians are being tragically reminded that the abstract ideologies of a few impose life-and-death consequences on millions.

PG&E May Need Bailout to Survive Latest Wildfire

Camp FireHow much of wildfire costs not covered by insurance should be paid by California’s giant investor-owner utilities has been a significant issue since at least 2007. That’s when wildfires ravaged northern and eastern San Diego County, killing two people and destroying more than 1,300 homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric argued that it should be allowed to pass on $379 million in related costs. But the California Public Utilities Commission and state courts – noting the evidence that poorly maintained equipment had been blamed for much of the damage in two state investigations – have rebuffed SDG&E. The utility’s most recent setback came just last week when the state 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego rejected a call to overturn previous rulings.

But during SDG&E’s long fight for a utility-favorable interpretation of liability laws, the debate has become far more high-profile. With six of California’s all-time 10 worst wildfires occurring since September 2015 in areas served by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the question of what to do to keep the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities in business has emerged as one of the thorniest, most contentious issues in Sacramento.

Now, with Northern California reeling from its deadliest fire ever in Butte County, and with a large area of Ventura County and northwest Los Angeles County ravaged in the past two weeks, PG&E and Edison are confronted with a perverse twist on their successful efforts to get the Legislature to give them relief from huge wildfire costs.

Law protecting utilities doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1

Senate Bill 901 – the main measure passed in late summer to insulate utilities from the extreme costs of fires – doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. That means its provisions to limit utilities’ liabilities if it could be shown they properly maintained their equipment in fire-prone wilderness areas won’t help PG&E or Edison with this fall’s blazes.

Instead, the old standard that led to negative rulings against SDG&E will be used in assessing damages. Given that utilities’ equipment is blamed for helping start the latest round of wildfires, that could be apocalyptic for the finances of PG&E. As of Monday afternoon, the Camp Fire had killed 77, with nearly 1,000 people unaccounted for, and torched 151,000 acres and nearly 13,000 structures.

In the Woolsey fire northeast of Los Angeles, three people have died, while more than 96,000 acres and 1,400-plus structures have burned.

In coming days, the focus is likely to be on how many of the missing in the Camp Fire are dead. It could end up as one of the five deadliest natural disasters in the United States in this century – nearly as lethal as Hurricane Katrina.

But eventually the focus will return to whether PG&E can survive the latest conflagrations even as it deals with potential losses in the billions from previous fires – and how much more state lawmakers and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom should do to help the utility survive in its present condition.

Its company valuation plunged by more than one-third after the severity of the Camp fire became evident, only to jumpsomewhat late last week after the president of the state Public Utilities Commission offered supportive comments.

“It’s not good policy to have utilities unable to finance the services and infrastructure the state of California needs,” Michael Picker told Bloomberg News. “They have to have stability and economic support to get the dollars they need right now.”

PG&E has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy before, in April 2001, when the utility was squeezed by sky-high energy costs after the blackouts of winter 2000-2001. It emerged from bankruptcy three years later.

Lawmakers have little goodwill for ‘criminal’ PG&E

But a huge scandal since then has left Northern California lawmakers with less goodwill toward the 113-year-old utility, whatever Picker’s views and whatever their willingness to pass SB901.

In 2010, a PG&E transmission line exploded in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, leaving eight dead and destroying 38 homes. In 2017, a federal judge found the utility guilty of five felonies for its failings to safely maintain the gas line, and a sixth felony for obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the disaster.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, routinely refers to PG&E as a “criminal” institution. Last week, he renewed his call to break up the utility, saying it could no longer be trusted to act in the interest of public safety.

PG&E shares closed at $23.26 in Monday trading. That was down 58 percent from its 52-week high of $55.66.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Power company under pressure to explain actions before California wildfire

Power electricSome victims of California’s worst-ever wildfire are asking why the state’s largest utility didn’t shut off power in areas that were at high risk. The death toll from the Camp Fire is up to 77, and that number is likely to rise.

Nearly 1,000 other people are unaccounted for. In 11 days, the fire has destroyed more than 10,000 homes north of Sacramento, the state’s capital.

Pacific Gas & Electric said two of its power lines failed in areas where the fire broke out a short time before the first flames were reported. It highlighted one failure the day the fire began but then waited more than a week to report the second until more information was available.

PG&E said the fire forecast did not meet the criteria for a “public safety power shutoff.” The cause of the fire is still under investigation. …

Click here to read the full article from CBS News

Camp Fire: Death toll of 42 expected to rise as fire grows to 125,000 acres

A home burns as the Camp fire tears through Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. - More than 18,000 acres have been scorched in a matter of hours burning with it a hospital, a gas station and dozens of homes. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Ernie Foss had been bed bound for more than a decade. His family provided him care at his Paradise home, where he struggled with an unusual condition that caused swelling over his entire body.

So when the relentless Camp Fire tore through his neighborhood on Edgewood Lane on Thursday, he didn’t have a way out.

Still, Foss’ stepson and caregiver, Andrew Burt, made every effort to get Foss up and into a wheelchair as a fast-moving wall of fire wiped out the town.

They almost made it.

Investigators found Foss’ body outside his home and next to his stepson’s burned-out van, Foss’ daughter, Angela Loo said. Burt remains missing.

“This is happening for all these people — It’s just unimaginable,” Loo said in a telephone interview from Oregon. “For our whole family, it’s been devastating. We’re in shock.”

As the number of dead continues to climb in the days after the fearsome blaze, a tragic picture of those who perished has begun to emerge. Like Foss, who was 63, many of the victims and missing people are seniors. Some had fixed incomes and like Foss, lived with mobility challenges or more serious disabilities.

The death toll hit 42 on Monday, with more than 200 people still unaccounted for in the fire that struck Thursday morning. As of Tuesday morning, it had burned 7,746 structures and continued to threaten another 15,500 structures, on its way to chewing through 125,000 acres. The fire was 30 percent contained. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

State Senator Looking at Breaking Up Utilities Following Potential Ties to Deadly Fires

VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is destroyed by brush fire as Santa Ana winds help propel the flames to move quickly through the landscape on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

State Sen. Jerry Hill tells KQED that he is looking into legislation that would break up the state’s investor-owned utilities or make them public following reports that Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison equipment may have been connected to the Camp and Woolsey fires burning at either end of the state.

“I’m very concerned about what we’ve learned so far regarding the fires of this year,” Hill said, referring to reports filed by PG&E and Edison to state regulators about incidents at their facilities that occurred around the same time that these deadly and destructive fires began.

On Thursday, PG&E told the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an outage on its 115-kilovolt Caribou-Palermo line at 6:15 a.m. Thursday. Cal Fire says the blaze started at 6:29 a.m.

It’s not clear from the report whether the damage occurred before or after the fire began, and a company spokesman did not address that question. But the location identified in the report appears to be very close to the spot where firefighters first encountered the blaze. …

Click here to read the full article from KQED

Death toll in California wildfires climbs to 25

FireThe remains of 14 more victims were found in the ashes of a massive Northern California wildfire, bringing the total number of deaths from blazes raging across the state to at least 25, officials said Saturday.

Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea said the 14 bodies were recovered in the Camp Fire, thought to be the most destructive wildfire in state history. Nine deaths had previously been reported in that fire.

Two bodies also were found in the burn zone of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, officials said.

“I know that members of our community who are missing loved ones are anxious, and I know that the news of us recovering bodies has to be disconcerting,” Honea said. “I will tell you that we are doing everything that we possibly can to identify those remains and make contact with the next of kin.”

“My heart goes out to those people. I will tell you that this weighs heavy on all of us,” he said. …

Click here to read the full article from NBC News