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PG&E Reaches $13.5 Billion Deal With Wildfire Victims

Westlake Legal Group merlin_149171412_7c5b12fb-0581-4f6f-9073-5c4afe926a1b-facebookJumbo PG&E Reaches $13.5 Billion Deal With Wildfire Victims Wildfires Suits and Litigation (Civil) Pacific Gas and Electric Co Electric Light and Power California Bankruptcies

After months of tense negotiations, Pacific Gas & Electric and lawyers for victims of wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses agreed on Friday to a multibillion-dollar legal settlement.

The victims wouldn’t receive all of the $13.5 billion that is being made available under the agreement. Some of it would go toward paying the claims of federal and state agencies, and the victims’ lawyers would receive a portion.

The accord is a big step forward for PG&E, whose response to wildfires has often faltered. For victims, the money would help them rebuild homes and lives after months of uncertainty, though many would most likely get a lot less than they had hoped for or need. And a settlement would significantly increase the likelihood that PG&E will emerge from bankruptcy before a crucial deadline in June. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January, saying it faced an estimated $30 billion in wildfire claims.

The settlement, which requires approval by the United States Bankruptcy Court, follows accords that PG&E announced with insurance companies and some government agencies. A court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20.

To receive payments, wildfire victims must file claims by Dec. 31, a deadline that was extended after tens of thousands of victims failed to submit claims and some said they were not even aware of the process.

Even with the settlement, the future of the utility’s operations remains uncertain. The devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire, which destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise, enraged many residents and elected officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose. Those leaders have proposed turning PG&E into a public utility or selling it to someone like the billionaire Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which owns several large energy companies.

“There have been many calls for PG&E to change in recent years,” the company’s chief executive, Bill Johnson, said in a statement. “PG&E’s leadership team has heard those calls for change, and we realize we need to do even more to be a different company now and in the future.”

Along with the destruction from wildfires caused by PG&E’s equipment, the utility has faced growing criticism over its failure to inspect and maintain its transmission network. Many Californians have also expressed anger at how the company shut off power to millions of people during periods of high winds and dry conditions to prevent fires.

A report released last week by the California Public Utilities Commission identified a 100-year-old transmission tower as the cause of the Camp Fire. It also revealed significant shortcomings in PG&E’s inspections of its power lines, a major cause of wildfires in the state.

In recent bankruptcy negotiations, representatives of Mr. Newsom have pressed PG&E to compensate wildfire victims sufficiently, treat workers fairly and maintain its commitment to clean energy. He has said the utility that emerges from bankruptcy must make safety a priority.

PG&E’s stock surged this week as investors became more upbeat about the prospects of a deal with the wildfire victims, but closed down 1.3 percent on Friday.

The company had originally offered to pay individual victims up to $8.4 billion, but increased its offer last month to try to win over the victims. Lawyers for the victims estimated in July that claims against PG&E totaled $54 billion for the fires of 2017 and 2018.

PG&E must emerge from bankruptcy by June in order to draw from a wildfire fund that California set up this year. The fund will help the state’s three large investor-owned utilities pay future wildfire claims if they meet certain conditions like improving safety practices.

On Thursday, the federal judge overseeing PG&E’s probation asked the utility to provide more information about equipment and inspection failures before the Camp Fire. Depending on the company’s answers, the judge, William H. Alsup, could initiate new disciplinary hearings or impose additional penalties against the company.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

PG&E Struggles to Find a Way Out of Bankruptcy

Westlake Legal Group 19utility2-facebookJumbo PG&E Struggles to Find a Way Out of Bankruptcy Wildfires Suits and Litigation (Civil) State Legislatures Pacific Gas and Electric Co Newsom, Gavin Electric Light and Power California Bankruptcies Accidents and Safety

After an autumn marked by mass blackouts and wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric is racing to craft a plan to escape bankruptcy. That plan needs to satisfy fire victims and state officials who are threatening to take over California’s largest utility unless executives improve its safety record.

If PG&E doesn’t reach an agreement with victims and other creditors by early next year, the utility might not be able to participate in a new state wildfire fund. A federal bankruptcy judge could also strip control from its management and board, or allow it to be broken up with the pieces sold to the highest bidder.

These tensions surfaced in a court hearing on Tuesday in which PG&E asked a bankruptcy judge to limit its liability for wildfires, and at a legislative hearing that featured the company’s chief executive on Monday in Sacramento.

Another big problem for PG&E: California’s fire season isn’t over yet. A dangerous combination of high winds and dry conditions is expected as early as Wednesday morning, and PG&E has said that it could cut power to up to 303,000 customers. That works out to more than 800,000 people — when accounting for shared addresses — in 25 counties across the Bay Area, wine country and the Sierra foothills.

So far this fire season, the utility has pre-emptively shut off power to nearly three million people in northern and central California, some for as many as five days. PG&E has said that the blackouts help guard against fires ignited by the sparks created when windblown tree branches collide with live power lines. But critics, including state and local government officials, have said that PG&E has done a poor job of warning residents about the shut-offs, which have had a disproportionate impact on low-income families who cannot afford generators or batteries, and on older and sick residents who rely on electric medical devices.

For some, the blackouts have amounted to “a big screw-you,” said State Senator Bill Dodd, a Democrat whose district includes Napa and Sonoma, during a hearing on Monday in Sacramento.

PG&E has warned that it might have to employ such blackouts for up to a decade while the utility makes up for deferred maintenance. On Monday, the company’s chief executive, Bill Johnson, told lawmakers that it aims to move faster and reduce the number of affected customers by one-third or more starting next year. To do so, it is installing backup energy systems like microgrids, underground power lines and weather cameras.

“It’s not acceptable to me to have another year like this,” Mr. Johnson said.

Not everyone is willing to wait. State Senator Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents the area where the Kincade fire burned 174 homes recently, is one of many lawmakers who have said that the state should consider offering a “public option” for electricity. PG&E has already stumbled twice, he said on Monday, with a deadly 2010 gas explosion and several devastating fires in the last two years.

“I think we’re on our third strike,” Mr. McGuire said. “They’ve failed us too many times.”

That hostility serves as the backdrop for a fierce battle in bankruptcy court over how much money PG&E will pay wildfire victims, insurance companies, public agencies and other creditors. The company recently lost the exclusive right to propose a plan for resolving its bankruptcy. That opened the door for holders of PG&E’s bonds and the group representing wildfire victims to propose a competing plan. The bankruptcy judge overseeing the case, Dennis Montali, recently appointed a mediator to try to get PG&E and its bondholders and the victims to reach a settlement.

On Monday, in an effort to reach a deal, PG&E increased the amount it is willing to pay to settle fire claims to $25.5 billion, up from $18.9 billion.

But it’s not clear whether that will satisfy all parties. While the fire victims and the insurance-claim holders have the biggest claims against the company, others are also fighting to maximize their share of the $25.5 billion. Federal, state and local agencies say they are owed some $7.5 billion for fighting fires started by the utility’s equipment, taking care of victims and other costs.

Another big point of contention is how those claims will be paid. Under earlier proposals, holders of insurance claims, many of which were bought by hedge funds, would have gotten $11 billion in cash. But other claimants, including the wildfire victims, would have been paid almost entirely in stock of the new, reorganized PG&E. But since stock can lose value, many people and organizations would prefer cash.

Robert Julian, a lawyer representing the wildfire victims, said in bankruptcy court on Tuesday that PG&E’s settlement with the insurance-claims holders had become “the elephant in the room” in the bankruptcy. The claims holders have not attended recent mediation sessions.

“We can’t resolve this case because they’ve taken all the cash,” Mr. Julian said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has also come out against the deal with insurance-claim holders, calling it premature. If victims, PG&E and insurance-claim holders cannot come to mutual agreement, “the state of California will present its own plan for resolution of these cases,” lawyers for Mr. Newsom wrote in a recent legal filing.

Some California politicians are considering drastic measures. Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, has proposed turning PG&E into a customer-owned entity. All fire claims in bankruptcy would be paid in cash under that plan, according to Alan Gover, a lawyer who is working on it.

PG&E must emerge from bankruptcy by June 2020 in order to participate in a new wildfire fund that California set up this year to shield the state’s largest utilities from future wildfire claims. If there is no settlement between PG&E, fire victims and other creditors by early next year, however, two other potentially lengthy trials are set to begin. These would decide the utility’s liability to fire victims with the help of a jury and expert witnesses.

While PG&E has repeatedly promised to pay all fire victim claims in full, bankruptcy experts say that troubled companies often find it difficult to do so, and many victims are left with much less than they hoped for.

“You kind of have to put ‘in full’ in quotation marks,” said Ralph Brubaker, a professor who specializes in bankruptcy at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Judge Montali last week extended the deadline by which people who lost homes and property in a PG&E-linked fire had to file claims to Dec. 31, from Oct. 21. Some fire victims said just days prior that they had not yet filed claims because of confusion about the process or trouble getting back on their feet.

“I am sure we missed thousands of people,” said Helen Sedwick, a lawyer who lost her home to fire in 2017 and has dedicated time to registering the claims of fellow survivors.

“Many people were starting from scratch,” she said. “Once they learned about it, there was a frantic sense of, ‘I need to understand this and do something quickly.’”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Can PG&E Survive the California Wildfires?

Westlake Legal Group 28utility-facebookJumbo Can PG&E Survive the California Wildfires? Wildfires Stocks and Bonds Power Failures and Blackouts Pacific Gas and Electric Co Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures Energy and Power Berkshire Hathaway Inc Bankruptcies

California’s Pacific Gas & Electric problem isn’t going away.

The giant utility has been in bankruptcy for months, and it is not clear who will end up controlling it. This uncertainty has extended into the wildfire season, exposing not just the shortcomings in PG&E’s fire-prevention efforts but also the threat that fire liabilities still pose to the company’s viability.

No surprise, then, that state officials are getting restless and looking for bolder ways forward.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared that his office would “love” to see Warren E. Buffett’s holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, make a bid for PG&E. And Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, favors a sweeping plan that would put PG&E in its customers’ hands.

But any idea must go through the federal bankruptcy court where two camps of investors — one aligned with wildfire victims seeking damages from PG&E, and another with management — have submitted plans to reorganize the company. PG&E, facing an estimated $30 billion or more in liabilities, mainly from fires in 2017 and 2018, sought bankruptcy protection in January. Its stock soared in the following months. On Wall Street and beyond, there was hope that the reorganization would stabilize PG&E, in tandem with a new state fund intended to keep fire liabilities from overwhelming utilities.

But the company’s shares plunged in recent weeks and even its bond prices weakened, suggesting that investors feared that plans to fix PG&E had fallen short.

In theory, the multibillion-dollar state wildfire fund — being set up to help utilities bear the cost of this year’s fires and those in the future — should be an effective backstop. But there are snags. To gain access, PG&E must emerge from bankruptcy by the middle of next year and, even if it does that, it stands to recoup only 40 percent of eligible damage claims for fires that take place while it is in bankruptcy. (Once it is out of bankruptcy and has satisfied other conditions, it will qualify for full coverage from the fund, which would be financed by bonds and company contributions.) Because PG&E’s equipment is suspected of having caused some of the recent fires, the company may end up facing another large bill for damages.

PG&E has been turning off power across vast parts of its service area during high winds, because fallen power lines are a major cause of wildfires. The blackouts have drawn widespread criticism. But if PG&E, fearful of the backlash, limits the scope of its power cuts, there could be more fires.

“We’re coordinating with federal, state and local partners to minimize risks stemming from the shut-offs until the extreme weather event has subsided,” Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman, said by email. “For the time being, this is not a political issue. It’s a safety issue, and we’re committed to doing what is necessary to keep our customers safe.”

But investors, needed to supply capital, will remain sensitive to the political pressures on PG&E, said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University. They may fear that PG&E won’t shut off enough lines, he said, and that “the future will be one where you use up the wildfire fund and you’re back where you were, maybe even in the not-too-distant future.”

The competing plans for reorganizing PG&E — each put forward by groups dominated by hedge funds — envision putting new money into the company, much of it to pay off liabilities related to fires before the bankruptcy.

But the funds may end up rethinking their commitments. The plans include language allowing the investment offers to be changed or withdrawn if new fires attributed to PG&E have caused the destruction of 500 structures or more before the end of the year.

The investors backing PG&E’s management own large amounts of the company’s stock and, in theory, will have suffered the biggest losses as the market value of the company has plunged to $2.5 billion, from $12.4 billion six months ago. (The shares jumped on Tuesday after the bankruptcy judge ordered lawyers for the wildfire victims to enter into mediation with PG&E, and appointed a mediator, a move that may help move the proceedings along.)

Berkshire owns several large energy companies and can raise large amounts of capital quickly, which is why some have seen it as a prospective bidder for PG&E.

“We would love to see that interest materialize, and in a more proactive, public effort,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview with Bloomberg on Saturday. “That would be encouraging to see. They are one of the few that are in a position to make a significant run at this.”

Nathan Click, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom, said the governor made the remarks as part of his desire to see many different parties submit plans for what to do with PG&E. Berkshire didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Analysts are skeptical that Mr. Buffett would buy PG&E, however. While he has invested in companies under stress, they said, his objective has often been to get the recipient through a rough patch without exposing Berkshire to hard-to-estimate losses, as an investment in PG&E, with its wildfire risk, might. “In general, there is not a strong appetite to buy turnaround stories at Berkshire,” said Meyer Shields, an analyst who covers Berkshire for KBW.

There are other hurdles. Berkshire would need to get approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has stringent standards for market power. Mr. Buffett’s company has large holdings throughout the West, from utilities in Nevada, Utah and elsewhere, as well as gas pipelines, coal operations and power plants that sell directly to the energy markets.

San Francisco has offered to pay $2.5 billion for PG&E’s grid in the city, a bid PG&E rejected. San Francisco officials had said owning the operations would improve local accountability. But critics of the move said such purchases could leave the remaining PG&E operations in less populated areas without the wherewithal to bear the costs of wildfires.

“If you start carving PG&E up, the entity left behind in the rural parts of the Bay Area will be an incredibly risky business and require a huge taxpayer subsidy,” said Jared Ellias, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

Under the proposal by Mr. Liccardo, the San Jose mayor, PG&E would not be broken up. A new company, in effect owned by PG&E’s customers, would buy PG&E out of bankruptcy and run it much like a cooperative, meaning it would not seek to maximize profits and it would not make payouts to stock investors. Also, architects of the plan say such an operation would not be subject to federal taxes. In theory, then, money would be freed up to invest in PG&E’s operations.

“Transforming PG&E into a customer-owned utility ensures the company’s primary focus will lie in the safety and reliability of its operations,” Mr. Liccardo said in an interview, “not in satisfying the short-term, financial needs of its shareholders or its executives.” The plan envisions the entity gaining access to the wildfire fund, but that might require legislative action.

Cooperatives in California get to set their own rates. As a result, critics of the plan say the entity would have more leeway to raise rates than PG&E, which must gain the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission to do so.

But Dan Richard, part of a team advising Mr. Liccardo on the plan, contends that similar entities in California have resisted abusing that authority. “There would be both political and market forces that would limit any prospect of runaway rate increases,” he said.

Lauren Hepler contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

California Fires Fanned by Strong Winds: Live Updates

Here’s what you need to know:

Video

Westlake Legal Group 29fires-01sub-videoSixteenByNine3000-v4 California Fires Fanned by Strong Winds: Live Updates Wind Wildfires Weather Protective Clothing and Gear National Weather Service Forests and Forestry Fires and Firefighters Environmental Protection Agency California Cal Fire

A forecast of powerful winds and low humidity was expected to worsen conditions for the fires that are burning in Northern and Southern California.CreditCredit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

The worst kind of weather for wildfires — strong, gusty winds and very low humidity — is returning on Tuesday after a relative respite on Monday, the National Weather Service said, raising the prospect of more fire outbreaks and rapid growth of the blazes that are already burning.

The agency has posted “red flag” warnings for most of Northern California and much of Southern California, taking effect at various times on Tuesday.

Forecasters are predicting winds between 50 m.ph. and 70 m.p.h. in Los Angeles County and Ventura County starting late Tuesday and continuing on Wednesday and Thursday, with some gusts up to 80 m.p.h. in the mountainous areas of Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said. The scale for Category 1 hurricanes begins at 74 m.p.h.

[Read more about how climate change could shift California’s winds.]

Winds gusts of up to 60 miles an hour could be expected beginning in the morning over a vast stretch of the state from the Sierras to the Pacific and from the southern fringes of the Bay Area north nearly to the Oregon border, except for coastal areas north of Sonoma County.

The winds, known as Santa Anas in the southern part of the state and Diablos in the north, arrive regularly in the fall. Recent research suggests that as the climate warms, Santa Ana winds may become less frequent. Coupled with precipitation changes, that could mean more intense fires later in the year.

Red-flag weather has played an important role in driving the growth of the Kincade, Getty and other fires, and has prompted pre-emptive blackouts by utility companies hoping to keep wind-damaged power lines and equipment from touching off more blazes.

[ The New York Times has photographers on the ground, documenting the California wildfires and the battle to contain them. Follow their work here. ]

Hundreds of firefighters mobilized to fight the Kincade fire gathered in the morning darkness on Tuesday for a briefing at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Crowded into an event hall in navy blue uniforms and yellow jackets, they listened as commanders took stock: Monday had been a good day.

The wind had died down, allowing for a real attack on the fire, which is now 15 percent contained. But today was going to be difficult, the crews were told.

“We’re going to be wind-tested again,” Ben Nichols, a representative from Cal Fire, told them. The breeze was supposed to get particularly powerful in the afternoon and evening, hurling hot embers toward dry areas and threatening the many houses tucked into the wooded areas of Sonoma County. Protecting those houses would be a major priority.

Many of the firefighters have been on the line for days, and some have worked as many as 36 hours at a stretch with no rest. Top officials warned them against fatigue.

Think things through, they were told. Have an escape plan. Throw out lunches that have gone bad after days in the truck. Don’t let sickness get in the way of work. And get ready for the wind.

Tuesday, said Mike Blankenheim of Cal Fire, was going to be a “max effort day.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_163492827_9be556f9-629e-471b-a68e-4b1578143d7e-articleLarge California Fires Fanned by Strong Winds: Live Updates Wind Wildfires Weather Protective Clothing and Gear National Weather Service Forests and Forestry Fires and Firefighters Environmental Protection Agency California Cal Fire

A firefighter worked on a hot spot in Windsor, Calif., on Monday.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Kincade fire has grown to more than 74,000 acres but is now 15 percent contained, according to Cal Fire, the state firefighting and fire prevention agency. It has destroyed more than than 120 structures and damaged another 20.

As the Kincade and Getty fires raged through dry vegetation at opposite ends of California on Monday, they raised fears that the state’s vicious wildfire season was straining the resources of fire departments that are already spread out battling 16 fires across the state, pushing fire crews beyond the brink of exhaustion.

“It’s all starting to blend together,” said Joe Augino, a firefighter with the Arcadia Fire Department in Southern California who had just finished battling a wildfire in the canyons north of Los Angeles last week when his company was summoned to travel eight hours to the north to help fight the Kincade fire in Sonoma County.

On a winding road near the front lines of the Kincade fire, where about 156,000 people remained under mandatory evacuation orders, Mr. Augino and his fellow firefighters were extinguishing spot fires with water and hand tools.

We’re continuing to update our page of maps showing the extent of the fires, power outages and evacuation zones. Data from Cal Fire shows how the Kincade fire in Northern California has spread and where it is burning most intensely. Satellite images pinpoint the Getty and Tick fires and affected areas nearby.

Westlake Legal Group california-fire-map-promo-1572020277850-articleLarge-v8 California Fires Fanned by Strong Winds: Live Updates Wind Wildfires Weather Protective Clothing and Gear National Weather Service Forests and Forestry Fires and Firefighters Environmental Protection Agency California Cal Fire

Maps: Kincade and Getty Fires, Evacuation Zones and Power Outages

Detailed maps show the current fire extents, power outage zones and areas under evacuation orders.

Fernanda Santos, a former New York Times correspondent based in Phoenix, is the author of “The Fire Line,” the story of 19 firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire in 2013.

It is an arresting scene, the dangers unimaginable: Firefighters clad in yellow and green flame-resistant uniforms, battling a wind-whipped and fast-moving blaze with what amount to farming and logging tools.

Fighting fires — including immense untamed wildfires — requires a combination of brutal force, endurance and skill. From the air, firefighters may release water and fire retardant, which can slow its spread but will not extinguish the raging flames. The most effective man-made way to contain a wildfire is to box it inside buffer zones that are absent of everything that burns — a laborious, intense pursuit that requires clearing the land.

Members of a 20-person crew work in a line, hacking at the hardened ground, chopping down trees, yanking out roots and sawing down undergrowth. It is a carefully choreographed ballet, where one person’s movements affect the next’s.

“Imagine, if you can, 16-hour days of manual labor where you’re hustling all the time, and you do it oftentimes for 14 days straight,” said Doug Harwood, a firefighter in the city of Prescott, Ariz., who spent years fighting wildfires in the Western United States.

The mechanics of the job have not changed considerably since 1910, when a monster wildfire known as the Big Burn devoured 3 million acres and killed 85 people across three Northwestern states, and a United States Forest Service ranger named Ed Pulaski returned from obscurity a handy tool that can both dig soil and chop wood.

The Pulaski, as it is known, combines an ax and an adz in one head, and is now arguably the most important piece of equipment in wildfire suppression.

Alan Sinclair, who commands one of 16 teams trained to manage the most challenging wildfires in the United States, said team leaders have to weigh the risks of clearing land when flames may be racing toward them. At some point, it may be too risky, he said.

Communities can help, he said, by working together to create buffer zones around them, what is known as “defensible space,” before a fire strikes.

“It’s really hard for firefighters to go into an area where no work has been done and be expected to save the neighborhood,” Mr. Sinclair said.

Power companies across the state warned that power could be cut pre-emptively because of worsening weather conditions.

Pacific Gas & Electric said it would shut off power to an additional 600,000 customers in 29 counties in Northern California on Tuesday and Wednesday because of the danger that wind-damaged lines or equipment could cause more fires. Some 500,000 PG&E customers were still blacked out from previous shut-offs, and the company said it could be several days before power is restored.

In and around Los Angeles, Southern California Edison said on Tuesday morning that as many as 205,000 customers could be affected by safety-related shutoffs, but that so far only a few hundred had been blacked out.

San Diego Gas & Electric warned that shutoffs may become necessary in some inland areas east and northeast of the city, but none had been imposed yet.

A new state web portal includes links to updated information on the power outages, as well as shelters and housing, road conditions and other information related to the fires, compiled by state agencies like Cal Fire and Caltrans.

As ashen skies, raging wildfires and blackouts blanket areas of Northern and Southern California, many residents and evacuees are relying on Twitter hashtags for up-to-date information about their homes, loved ones, road closures and further evacuations.

Over the past week, “Kincadefire,” “Gettyfire,” “Tickfire,” “Skyfire” and “Sawdayfire”— the names of the wildfires — have become popular search terms on social media. But often there is confusion as to where their names come from.

As opposed to the predetermined list of names provided for hurricanes, wildfires are named by officials according to the location or local landmark, including streets, lakes and mountains, where the fire broke out. Fires often go without names if they are too small.

“Quickly naming the fire provides responding fire resources with an additional locator, and allows fire officials to track and prioritize incidents by name,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

If there is a long human presence in the area, there’s no challenge in finding a name — officials just draw from geographically local, named landmarks, according to Susie Kocher, a Natural Resources Advisor at the University of California.

The 2003 San Diego Cedar fire, one of the state’s largest wildland fires in history, unsurprisingly spread across the Cedar Creek Falls area. It burned over 270,000 acres, destroyed more 2,200 homes and killed 14 civilians and one firefighter.

But when it comes to naming there are always weird exceptions. The 416 Fire, for example, burned more than 50,000 acres in Colorado in 2018. Why 416? According to the Durango Interagency Dispatch Center, it was after a “system-generated number” that represented the 416th “incident” in the San Juan National Forest that year.

Another curious choice was in 2015, when fire officials in southeast Idaho ran out of naming ideas following the outbreak of a swarm of fires; for a fire with few landmarks nearby, they went with “Not Creative.

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County, which had burned more than 66,000 acres and has displaced nearly 200,000 residents as of Monday night, has proved challenging to remember for journalists and people on social media alike.

Misspellings online include Kincaid, Kincaide, Kinkade and Kinkaid.


Reporting was contributed by Adeel Hassan, Liam Stack, Sarah Mervosh and Vanessa Swales.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

California Fires Live Updates: Getty Fire Fanned by Strong Winds

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_163492827_9be556f9-629e-471b-a68e-4b1578143d7e-articleLarge California Fires Live Updates: Getty Fire Fanned by Strong Winds Wind Wildfires Weather Protective Clothing and Gear National Weather Service Forests and Forestry Fires and Firefighters Environmental Protection Agency California Cal Fire

A firefighter worked on a hot spot in Windsor, Calif., on Monday.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The worst kind of weather for wildfires — strong, gusty winds and very low humidity — is returning on Tuesday after a relative respite on Monday, the National Weather Service said, raising the prospect of more fire outbreaks and rapid growth of the blazes that are already burning.

The agency has posted “red flag” warnings for most of Northern California and much of Southern California, taking effect at various times on Tuesday.

Forecasters are predicting winds between 50 m.ph. and 70 m.p.h. in Los Angeles County and Ventura County on Wednesday and Thursday, with some gusts up to 80 m.p.h. in the mountainous areas of Los Angeles and Santa Monica counties, the National Weather Service said. The scale for Category 1 hurricanes begins at 74 m.p.h.

Winds gusts of up to 60 miles an hour could be expected beginning in the morning over a vast stretch of the state from the Sierras to the Pacific and from the southern fringes of the Bay Area north nearly to the Oregon border, except for coastal areas north of Sonoma County.

The winds, known as Santa Anas in the southern part of the state and Diablos in the north, arrive regularly in the fall. Recent research suggests that as the climate warms, Santa Ana winds may become less frequent. Coupled with precipitation changes, that could mean more intense fires later in the year.

[Read more about how climate change could shift California’s winds.]

Red-flag weather has played an important role in driving the growth of the Kincade, Getty and other fires, and has prompted pre-emptive blackouts by utility companies hoping to keep wind-damaged power lines and equipment from touching off more blazes.

[ The New York Times has photographers on the ground, documenting the California wildfires and the battle to contain them. Follow their work here. ]

The Kincade fire has grown to more than 74,000 acres but is now 15 percent contained, according to Cal Fire, the state firefighting and fire prevention agency. It has destroyed more than than 120 structures and damaged another 20.

As the Kincade and Getty fires raged through dry vegetation at opposite ends of California on Monday, they raised fears that the state’s vicious wildfire season was straining the resources of fire departments that are already spread out battling 16 fires across the state, pushing fire crews beyond the brink of exhaustion.

“It’s all starting to blend together,” said Joe Augino, a firefighter with the Arcadia Fire Department in Southern California who had just finished battling a wildfire in the canyons north of Los Angeles last week when his company was summoned to travel eight hours to the north to help fight the Kincade fire in Sonoma County.

With no rain in the forecast, a brief break in the ferocious winds on Monday offered Mr. Augino’s crew and other firefighters a tiny but crucial window to try to gain control over the fast-spreading fires. But forecasters warned that the respite would not last and that wind gusts would grow to 50 or 60 miles per hour by Tuesday.

On a winding road near the front lines of the Kincade fire, where about 156,000 people remained under mandatory evacuation orders, Mr. Augino and his fellow firefighters were extinguishing spot fires with water and hand tools.

We’re continuing to update our page of maps showing the extent of the fires, power outages and evacuation zones. Data from Cal Fire shows how the Kincade fire in Northern California has spread and where it is burning most intensely. Satellite images pinpoint the Getty and Tick fires and affected areas nearby.

Westlake Legal Group california-fire-map-promo-1572020277850-articleLarge-v8 California Fires Live Updates: Getty Fire Fanned by Strong Winds Wind Wildfires Weather Protective Clothing and Gear National Weather Service Forests and Forestry Fires and Firefighters Environmental Protection Agency California Cal Fire

Maps: Kincade and Getty Fires, Evacuation Zones and Power Outages

Detailed maps show the current fire extents, power outage zones and areas under evacuation orders.

Fernanda Santos, a former New York Times correspondent based in Phoenix, is the author of “The Fire Line,” the story of 19 firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire in 2013.

It is an arresting scene, the dangers unimaginable: Firefighters clad in yellow and green flame-resistant uniforms, battling a wind-whipped and fast-moving blaze with what amount to farming and logging tools.

Fighting fires — including immense untamed wildfires — requires a combination of brutal force, endurance and skill. From the air, firefighters may release water and fire retardant, which can slow its spread but will not extinguish the raging flames. The most effective man-made way to contain a wildfire is to box it inside buffer zones that are absent of everything that burns — a laborious, intense pursuit that requires clearing the land.

Members of a 20-person crew work in a line, hacking at the hardened ground, chopping down trees, yanking out roots and sawing down undergrowth. It is a carefully choreographed ballet, where one person’s movements affect the next’s.

“Imagine, if you can, 16-hour days of manual labor where you’re hustling all the time, and you do it oftentimes for 14 days straight,” said Doug Harwood, a firefighter in the city of Prescott, Ariz., who spent years fighting wildfires in the Western United States.

The mechanics of the job have not changed considerably since 1910, when a monster wildfire known as the Big Burn devoured 3 million acres and killed 85 people across three Northwestern states, and a United States Forest Service ranger named Ed Pulaski returned from obscurity a handy tool that can both dig soil and chop wood.

The Pulaski, as it is known, combines an ax and an adz in one head, and is now arguably the most important piece of equipment in wildfire suppression.

Alan Sinclair, who commands one of 16 teams trained to manage the most challenging wildfires in the United States, said team leaders have to weigh the risks of clearing land when flames may be racing toward them. At some point, it may be too risky, he said.

Communities can help, he said, by working together to create buffer zones around them, what is known as “defensible space,” before a fire strikes.

“It’s really hard for firefighters to go into an area where no work has been done and be expected to save the neighborhood,” Mr. Sinclair said.

With wildfires raging up and down California, smoke filled the air in many places, ash fell from the sky, and residents were once again left to wonder whether the very air they were breathing was safe. Here is what you need to know about the air quality in the state.

Air quality is graded on a color-coded scale, with green for good quality, and yellow, orange, red, and purple representing increasingly significant risks.

After the Getty fire broke out on Monday, the Los Angeles area was experiencing moderately hazardous conditions — in the yellow category — with some locations recording air that was unhealthy for sensitive groups, coded orange. The Bay Area was also experiencing conditions in the orange range.

In general, wildfires come with a risk of breathing particulate matter, tiny pollutants too small to see individually that can cause a range of harmful effects when inhaled into the lungs.

Young children, older adults, people with asthma and people with pre-existing conditions are most at risk, but pollution from smoky air can affect even healthy adults.

When the air quality is poor, health experts recommend staying inside, closing windows to keep out smoky air, and using an air-conditioner with a recirculation option, if possible. If you must go outside, experts recommend using a mask designed to keep out particulate matter.

A surgical mask, scarf or bandanna will not do much to filter out many pollutants. Instead, experts recommend a respirator mask, such as a N95 face mask, which is designed to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles.

The current and forecast air quality conditions anywhere in the United States can be checked on AirNow.gov, a website set up by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.

While dry eyes and a scratchy throat may simply be a reaction to low humidity in fire-prone areas, a cough, shortness of breath or lightheadedness could also be a symptom of something more serious, said Dr. Kathryn Melamed, a pulmonologist at U.C.L.A.

As ashen skies, raging wildfires and blackouts blanket areas of Northern and Southern California, many residents and evacuees are relying on Twitter hashtags for up-to-date information about their homes, loved ones, road closures and further evacuations.

Over the past week, “Kincadefire,” “Gettyfire,” “Tickfire,” “Skyfire” and “Sawdayfire”— the names of the wildfires — have become popular search terms on social media. But often there is confusion as to where their names come from.

As opposed to the predetermined list of names provided for hurricanes, wildfires are named by officials according to the location or local landmark, including streets, lakes and mountains, where the fire broke out. Fires often go without names if they are too small.

“Quickly naming the fire provides responding fire resources with an additional locator, and allows fire officials to track and prioritize incidents by name,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

If there is a long human presence in the area, there’s no challenge in finding a name — officials just draw from geographically local, named landmarks, according to Susie Kocher, a Natural Resources Advisor at the University of California.

The 2003 San Diego Cedar fire, one of the state’s largest wildland fires in history, unsurprisingly spread across the Cedar Creek Falls area. It burned over 270,000 acres, destroyed more 2,200 homes and killed 14 civilians and one firefighter.

But when it comes to naming there are always weird exceptions. The 416 Fire, for example, burned more than 50,000 acres in Colorado in 2018. Why 416? According to the Durango Interagency Dispatch Center, it was after a “system-generated number” that represented the 416th “incident” in the San Juan National Forest that year.

Another curious choice was in 2015, when fire officials in southeast Idaho ran out of naming ideas following the outbreak of a swarm of fires; for a fire with few landmarks nearby, they went with “Not Creative.

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County, which had burned more than 66,000 acres and has displaced nearly 200,000 residents as of Monday night, has proved challenging to remember for journalists and people on social media alike.

Misspellings online include Kincaid, Kincaide, Kinkade and Kinkaid.


Reporting was contributed by Adeel Hassan, Liam Stack, Sarah Mervosh and Vanessa Swales.

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California Blackouts Hit Cellphone Service, Fraying a Lifeline

Westlake Legal Group 28cellular1-facebookJumbo California Blackouts Hit Cellphone Service, Fraying a Lifeline Wireless Communications Wildfires Power Failures and Blackouts Pacific Gas and Electric Co Federal Communications Commission Disasters and Emergencies California

California’s recent power shut-offs, meant to reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic fires, have had an unwelcome side effect. The blackouts have also cut power to many cellphone towers, blocking the main communications source for many in harm’s way.

“You don’t appreciate how essential cellphone service is until you lose it,” said Chris Ungson, deputy director for communications and water policy for the California Public Advocates Office, an independent agency within the state’s Public Utilities Commission. “It’s not just a matter of inconvenience; it’s a matter of public health and safety. It’s a lifeline to many, many people.”

Emergency calls to 911 are one indicator: The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said more than 80 percent of such calls in California last year were made by cellphone.

For years, state and federal regulators have pressed the cellular companies to better reinforce their networks for emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission said Monday that it was conducting “a comprehensive review of the wireless industry’s voluntary commitment to promote resilient wireless communications during disasters.”

The F.C.C. wrote to cellular carriers last month to express concern about service reliability as California’s wildfire season neared, asking for an account of steps being taken “to promote the continuity of communications for public safety officials and residents.”

Verizon, AT&T and other carriers said Monday that they were working to minimize disruption, but could offer no specific guarantees.

In Paradise, a Sierra foothill town rebuilding after it was devastated by fire last year, the combination of the power shut-off and uncertain communications was causing renewed anxiety on Monday.

Jess Mercer, who conducted her elementary-school drawing class by lantern light, said cellular service was spotty and wireless internet connections were out in many areas, leaving many parents and teachers uncertain about whether school was open.

Some parents, she said, were resorting to a 20th-century information source to stay updated. “A lot of people are telling me they’re getting into their cars and trying to get warm with their heaters, and they’re listening to the radio,” Ms. Mercer said. “People are trying any way they can to get information.”

In Sonoma County, where a major fire led to the evacuation of 180,000 residents over the weekend, one-quarter of the 436 cellphone towers were not functioning, the F.C.C. said Monday.

In nearby Marin County, more than half of the 280 towers were out of service. Most of the outages were related to the pre-emptive power cuts imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility.

The increasing connection between power failures and communications outages arises from the transformative effect of wireless devices, which many people have made their sole source of telephone service.

Most cell towers have some form of backup power. When they lose power, they resort to batteries. If the batteries run out, the towers draw power from generators, which rely on fuel. These methods can provide power for days or longer, depending on whether the generators can be refueled.

AT&T said all of its cell sites in California had some form of backup power. Verizon said most of its towers were equipped with batteries and generators. T-Mobile said it had built-in generators in its most critical sites, while others had batteries. Sprint said that some of its cell sites had built-in generators, and that it was deploying portable generators for others as quickly as possible.

“Providers invest significant resources to strengthen and harden networks so that they are able to maintain service during emergencies,” said a statement from CTIA, the wireless industry trade group.

There are limits to what carriers can do when the blackout is accompanied by wildfire. Some generators are inaccessible because of the fires and can’t be refueled. In other cases, sites lack generators because of zoning restrictions.

In 2007, after Hurricane Katrina, the F.C.C. ordered cellular companies to provide at least eight hours of backup support for their towers. But the Office of Management and Budget rejected the move on procedural grounds, and the commission dropped the plan.

In May, the California Public Advocates Office called on the Public Utilities Commission to exercise emergency powers to ensure that communications systems continue to operate in emergencies. It asked the commission to immediately order cellular companies provide backup generators and alternate routes in high-fire areas and flood plains.

“The failure of our communications systems in emergencies is a life-or-death matter, and one that must be addressed immediately,” the office wrote.

The commission directed the wireless providers to report how they were hardening their systems, but the Public Advocates Office said the responses were vague and ambiguous.

“There is a constant pushback from the utilities,” said Ana Maria Johnson, program manager at the Public Advocates Office. “They want to voluntarily do things. It has to be requirement that they do this. It is critical that wireless facilities have on-site backup power.”

To some extent, the Public Utilities Commission has put the responsibility on the public. In a recent report, it noted that wireless customers “may or may not have voice service in a power outage, depending on the backup power installed at cell sites,” and said the commission “does not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.”

It added that it was “the responsibility of the customer to obtain the required backup power in the residence to have working telephone service during an outage event.”

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AOC Blames the California Wildfires on “Climate Change,” but the Internet Isn’t Having It

Westlake Legal Group AlexandriaOcasioCortez-June2019-620x317 AOC Blames the California Wildfires on “Climate Change,” but the Internet Isn’t Having It Wildfires Politics Green New Deal Front Page Stories environment democrats Climate Change Climate California AOC Allow Media Exception Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens during questioning at a House Oversight and Reform committee hearing on facial recognition technology in government, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

There’s a pattern with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A natural event happens — it doesn’t matter much what kind of event it is — and her immediate reaction is to blame it on “climate change.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction that was, frankly, worn to death by climate alarmists before her like Al Gore and Bill Nye.

On Monday, AOC sent out a tweet blaming the wildfires ravaging parts of California right now on “climate change,” stating that this is what “climate change” looks like and even throwing in a hit on the un-scientific nature of the Republicans for good measure.

Naturally, it ended with a time frame for us to fix it and a promotion of the Green New Deal.

“This is what climate change looks like,” tweeted AOC. “The GOP like to mock scientific warnings about climate change as exaggeration. But just look around: it’s already starting. We have 10 years to cut carbon emissions in half. If we don’t, scenes like this can get much worse.”

The problem with this statement is that California wildfires aren’t anything new. In fact, Capital Public Radio has a visual timeline that shows just how wildfires have hit California dating back well before the 1950s. Like any natural disaster, wildfires are worse in some years than they are others.

This picture below shows an accumulated map of wildfires that date back to 1878 all the way up to 1950.

Westlake Legal Group Capture-3 AOC Blames the California Wildfires on “Climate Change,” but the Internet Isn’t Having It Wildfires Politics Green New Deal Front Page Stories environment democrats Climate Change Climate California AOC Allow Media Exception Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The idea that humans are causing wildfires due to their effect on the planet is incredibly shaky.

While many of AOC’s online group of trained seals applauded and cheered her blatant attempt at agenda promotion, much of the internet wasn’t having her scaremongering.

The point made here is pretty clear. Wildfires and California go hand in hand. They have them so frequently that it’s a wonder they don’t name their sports teams after it.

Regardless, AOC’s tweet has shown us that she’s willing to stand on the ashes of people’s homes and lives in order to paint the GOP with the blame as well as pushing her pet project, which is pretty disgusting in and of itself. Your life burning down in front of you matters little. It’s all a political prop to her.

Disgusting.

 

The post AOC Blames the California Wildfires on “Climate Change,” but the Internet Isn’t Having It appeared first on RedState.

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A Forecast for a Warming World: Learn to Live With Fire

SAN FRANCISCO — Facing down 600 wildfires in the past three days alone, emergency workers rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people in Southern California on Thursday as a state utility said one of its major transmission lines broke near the source of the out-of-control Kincade blaze in Northern California.

The Kincade fire, the largest this week, tore through steep canyons in the wine country of northern Sonoma County, racing across 16,000 acres within hours of igniting. Wind gusts pushed the fire through forests like blow torches, leaving firefighters with little opportunity to stop or slow down the walls of flames tromping across wild lands and across highways overnight.

And north of Los Angeles, 50,000 people were evacuated as strong winds swept fires into the canyons of Santa Clarita, threatening many homes.

Aerial footage of the Kincade fire showed homes engulfed in flames propelled by high winds that could become even stronger in the coming days. But beyond the destruction, which appeared limited on Thursday to several dozen buildings, hundreds of thousands of people were affected, both by the fires and a deliberate blackout meant to prevent them. Schools and businesses closed and thousands of people evacuated their homes.

All this is happening after three straight years of record-breaking fires that researchers say are likely to continue in a warming world and which raise an important question: How to live in an ecosystem that is primed to burn?

“I think the perception is that we’re supposed to control them. But in a lot of cases we cannot,” said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor at the University of Idaho. “And that may allow us to think a little bit differently about how we live with fire. We call it wildfire for reason — it’s not domesticated fire.”

According to the National Climate Assessment, the government report that summarizes present and future effects of a warming climate on the United States, fire is a growing problem. Climate change will lead to more wildfires nationwide as hotter temperatures dry out plants, making them easier to ignite.

The total area burned in a single year by wildfires in the United States has only exceeded 13,900 square miles — an area larger than the country of Belgium — four times since the middle of last century. All four times have happened this decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

“There is anger in the community,” said Michael Gossman, the deputy county administrator of Sonoma County’s office of recovery and resilience, in an interview this year. In 2017 his California county was devastated by the Sonoma Complex fires, which killed 24 and burned more than 170 square miles. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the conditions this week were analogous to those of 2017.

Many residents in Northern California faced a twin threat on Thursday: fires, but also the deliberate power outages meant to mitigate the blazes. Both the Kincade fire and a small fire that ignited Thursday morning, the Spring fire, occurred in or near areas where the state utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, had turned off the power.

The fires “brought out some longer standing institutional issues around equity,” Mr. Gossman said. Critics say electricity cutoffs disproportionately harm low-income people who cannot afford solar and battery backup systems or gas-based generators, as well as sick and disabled people who rely on electricity to run life-saving medical equipment.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_163246050_ee8f9d3f-7476-42a4-adca-337f20bf6e09-articleLarge A Forecast for a Warming World: Learn to Live With Fire

A firefighter spraying water on a burning home in Sonoma County on Thursday.Credit…Noah Berger/Associated Press

Although winds in California were forecast to subside later on Thursday, officials warned that the extreme winds and dry conditions that create high risk for fires could return on Sunday. This is why government agencies are preparing themselves to deal with fires that are increasingly seen as inevitable.

Prescribed burns, or planned fires, like one set last spring on Brawley Mountain in Georgia in Southern Appalachia roughly 100 miles north of Atlanta, are often seen as part of the solution.

The idea that fire could itself be used to help fight fire and restore ecosystems first gained institutional acceptance in the South. In 1958 a policy change was made to allow for the first prescribed burn in a national park, at Everglades National Park in Florida.

For some time, the practice remained anomalous outside of the South. But within the south, according to Nathan Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, even private landowners would occasionally set smaller, controlled fires on their property.

Before the era of fire suppression, north Georgia around Brawley Mountain used to burn roughly every three to five years, according to Dr. Klaus. Those blazes allowed species that could withstand some fire, like the longleaf pine, to proliferate and flourish, shaping local ecosystems.

Some of those fires were caused by natural events like lightning; others were caused by human activity. The Forest Service notes that Native Americans used prescribed burns to help with food production. These smaller fires act as a kind of incendiary rake, clearing out grasses, shrubs and other plant matter before they can overgrow to become fuel for bigger, more extreme fires.

Dave Martin, who oversees fire and aviation management in the Forest Service’s southern region, said that a prescribed burn costs about $30 to $35 an acre — versus spending about $1,000 dollars an acre for putting out a fire. “The cost of suppressing a fire is more than a prescribed burn,” he said.

It was a combination of forest overgrowth and drought conditions that helped fuel Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains Fires in 2016, which killed at least 14 people. Several fires burned across eight southeastern states that year, the same year Kansas experienced the largest wildfire in its history. The Anderson Creek prairie fire, which also affected Oklahoma, blackened some 625 square miles.

The 2016 wildfires also allowed researchers to compare fire intensity between areas that had undergone a prescribed burn and those that had not. The fires in areas that had undergone prescribed were less intense. “It went from a 20- to 30-foot breaking front,” said Dr. Klaus in reference to the height of the leading edge of the blaze on wild lands that had not burned, “to two to three feet.”

Reintroducing fire to the land is more complex than lighting a match. You cannot burn where people live, for example. But nationwide, housing near wild lands is the fastest growing land-use type in the United States. More people are moving into areas that are more likely to burn, and in some cases they may oppose prescribed burning.

“Part of doing this work means educating local communities,” said Mike Brod, the fire and natural resources staff officer of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.

And there are limits to prescribed burning. If conditions are too wet, a fire won’t ignite, but if it’s too dry, the fire is hard to contain. Like Goldilocks, for wild land managers the conditions have to be just right. This includes not just the wind’s speed, which can affect the spread of a fire, but also its direction.

And once the burn starts, its smoke can travel great distances. Smoke from last year’s California’s wildfires not only threw a haze over much of the state, but transformed sunsets as far away as Washington, D.C. On Thursday, NOAA warned residents of the Bay Area that “shifting winds tomorrow will likely cause the smoke to be directly over much of the region,” as a result of the Kincade fire.

So during planned burns great pains have to be taken to make sure that the smoke is directed away from population centers. “If the smoke isn’t doing what we want it to do, we’ll shut it down,” said Nick Peters, the acting district fire management officer for the Chattooga River ranger district in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.

The particulates in wildfire smoke are similar to the kind of pollution that gets released from burning gasoline or coal. Called PM 2.5, the tiny particles are associated with negative health effects. Out west, the rise of giant wildfires has worsened air pollution enough to erode some of the air-quality gains from the Clean Air Act.

Earlier this year NOAA and NASA launched a mission to learn more about wildfire smoke. The program flew planes into western wildfires and Midwestern agricultural fires throughout the summer and into the fall.

A lot of wildfire and climate research is divided into two camps: observational modelers (who run large computer simulations) and researchers (who gather observational data using sophisticated monitors) said Rajan Chakrabarty, an assistant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. The goal of the mission was to bridge that gap.

But flying into a fire is not for the weak bellied. As the plane flies through a blaze, the cabin fills with the smell of smoke evocative of a barbecue or a campfire. And sampling a fire plume often involves the kind of rollicking, stomach churning turbulence that commercial flights go out of their way to avoid.

By taking samples during an active fire, scientists hope to understand what’s in the smoke, and how the chemical makeup changes over time.

“This air is getting blown downwind, so it’s going to impact areas outside of just where the fire was burning,” said Hannah Halliday, a researcher at NASA Langley, who also participated in the mission. “And we have models for how emissions change, but we want to make sure that we have that chemistry right, and the physics right.”

The hope is that, over the long term, the smoke models will be as sophisticated as weather models, and can let people know well in advance when they’ll need to prepare for smoke, even if they are relatively far from the site of a fire.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Thomas Fuller reported from San Francisco. Kendra Pierre-Louis reported from Brawley Mountain, Ga., and Idaho.

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PG&E Warns It Could Cut Power to California Users Again

Westlake Legal Group 21utility-1sub-facebookJumbo PG&E Warns It Could Cut Power to California Users Again Wildfires Power Failures and Blackouts Pacific Gas and Electric Co California

Pacific Gas & Electric warned that it would likely cut power temporarily to hundreds of thousands of customers in Northern California by Wednesday night for the second time in two weeks.

A growing threat of offshore winds combined with dry air and high temperatures have made 16 counties in the Sierra Foothills and the North Bay vulnerable to wildfires, the utility said on Monday. The company sent phone messages, texts and emails to those who might be affected by the shut-off, as a new fire in Southern California burned near multimillion-dollar homes.

The sole purpose of the shut-off “is to significantly reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president for electric operations, who made the decision to cut power to about two million people two weeks ago.

Bill Johnson, PG&E’s chief executive officer, said during a news conference that “we don’t want to turn off the power,” but the threat of high winds and dry conditions increased the risk that the equipment could cause fires. He said several steps have been taken to improve the power shut-off process this time, including making community resource centers with restrooms, bottled water, chargers for electronic devices and other amenities available ahead of the blackouts.

PG&E, which has been convicted of criminal negligence for its handling of its natural gas system and blamed by state authorities for a wildfire that killed scores of people, was widely criticized for its handling of the previous power shut-offs, which began Oct. 9 and lasted for four days. Millions were left in the dark, many without notice. Businesses and schools were forced to close. The utility’s website crashed twice.

Residents scrambled to purchase power generators. Those with disabilities and dire health concerns found their lives endangered.

The utility used the power shut-offs to prevent another year of devastating wildfires, modeling after San Diego Gas & Electric, which pioneered the strategy.

Guarding against wildfires caused by its equipment has become critical for PG&E. The company filed for bankruptcy in January as it faced tens of billions of dollars in liability claims. Its equipment had been blamed for causing two dozens fires in recent years.

But state regulators and Gov. Gavin Newsom railed against PG&E’s executives for their handling of the power shut-offs, saying the company had again failed at its job.

“What we saw play out with PG&E last week cannot be repeated,” Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said during an emergency hearing Friday to discuss the utility’s actions. “Unless it is executed well, shutting off power has severe health and economic consequences.”

Mr. Johnson said during Monday’s news conference that the severe weather approaching Northern California raised the possibility that the utility would have to cut power again.

PG&E’s meteorological and operations teams determined that strong and dry offshore wind gusts might exceed 55 miles per hour late Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon for portions of the Sierra Foothills. Gusts of 35 to 45 m.p.h. have been forecast for some North Bay counties, with some localized areas expected to experience 55 m.p.h. gusts.

State officials have classified more than half of PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service area in Northern and Central California as posing a high fire threat due to dry grasses and numerous dead and dying trees. The state’s high-risk areas have tripled in size in seven years.

For this event, PG&E said customers visiting the pge.com website are being redirected to a special, strength-tested site that can accommodate high volumes of traffic. The temporary site provides customer information by address, community resource center locations and other shutdown-related information. Online services such as bill payments will be unavailable until after power has been restored.

Mr. Johnson said the increasingly disastrous effects of climate change will continue to make power shut-offs necessary, though less often as PG&E and other utilities harden their electric systems. But he said it will likely take a decade before PG&E no longer uses power shut-offs as a tool for preventing wildfires based on what he has seen from the experiences at San Diego Gas & Electric, which began work on its system after fires in 2007.

“I think we’re being realistic about it,” Mr. Johnson said. “There will be fewer every year.”

Time is of the essence for PG&E, California’s largest utility, to demonstrate its ability to manage its operations.

Cities like San Francisco and San Jose have increasingly called for breaking up PG&E and turning its operations into municipal utilities.

Mr. Newsom has said he wants PG&E to issue rebates of $100 to residential customers and $250 to small businesses for the impact of the power shut-offs earlier this month. Mr. Johnson said the utility is reviewing the idea but he is concerned about the precedent such a request might set.

For all the criticism, Mr. Johnson has maintained that the most significant result of the power shut-off strategy has been that it prevented the utility’s equipment from causing a wildfire. Even though the execution of the power shut-offs was poor, he said he believes the scope targeting the two million people was necessary.

“We got that right,” Mr. Johnson said.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Bay Area Democrat, said that after numerous incidents involving the utility’s negligence that have cost the lives of scores of people throughout the company’s service area, it has become difficult to believe PG&E.

“We just don’t, we meaning the public, we can’t rely on their assessment of the need,” Mr. Hill said. “It may be necessary, but there’s no one to verify their actions and no one can trust their actions.”

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In a High-Tech State, Blackouts Are a Low-Tech Way to Prevent Fires

Westlake Legal Group 12grid-1-facebookJumbo In a High-Tech State, Blackouts Are a Low-Tech Way to Prevent Fires Wildfires Solar Energy Schneider Electric SA San Diego Gas&Electric Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Power Failures and Blackouts Lovins, Amory B California Public Utilities Commission California Bloom Energy

California has a reputation as a haven for technological innovation. But the state’s largest power utility is using the lowest of low-tech solutions — rolling blackouts — to protect dry landscapes from live power lines that could spark or overheat and set wildfires.

The utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, turned off power to broad areas, including urban and suburban developments far from the risk of fire, this past week. And the utility had to send some crews into the field to start the blackouts and then restore power — an antiquated method, energy experts said — rather than relying on a more centrally controlled operation.

But there are several rapidly developing types of technology that can reduce the need for some of the most dangerous lines and limit the extent of territory left in the dark.

“It’s an incredible travesty, this sort of really crude and unsophisticated approach for dealing with what is a very serious issue,” said Jack Brouwer, an engineering professor and director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.

“We have technological solutions for this that exist,” Mr. Brouwer said. Unfortunately, he said, California regulations and planning have been “insufficient for that technology to be used instead of just turning the power off.”

One of the approaches, called microgrids, involves using power sources like solar panels and diesel engines to provide electricity for a community, a cluster of buildings or even a manufacturing site. Because that electricity circulates only locally, a microgrid can eliminate the need to transmit power over long distances.

Depending on how the microgrid is designed, some or all of the lights can stay on, whether or not the main grid is energized.

Amory Lovins, a co-founder and former chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit group that focuses on energy, said that the vast majority of power outages begin with failures of the grid — the transmission and distribution lines and the equipment surrounding them — rather than with power plants. In places like California, those failed power lines can generate fires.

“That’s part of the logic of microgrids,” Mr. Lovins said. “It’s not big enough to need long-distance transmission, which is where a lot of the fire issues are arising.”

“It could be part of the solution in California,” Mr. Lovins added.

Some industry experts defended PG&E’s use of the blackouts.

“It’s one of the tools in the toolbox, and given that safety is paramount, they are erring on the side of caution,” said Scott Aaronson, vice president for security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group. “It’s not exactly an elegant solution, but it does save lives and property.”

He added, “They’re doing what they can given the topography that they serve and where the threats of ignition are.”

A town that uses microgrids can disconnect from the main grid either temporarily or permanently, depending on how the microgrid is designed. Some communities that have experienced frequent blackouts are taking a closer look at using microgrids to unplug themselves from the broader power system during emergencies. That way, they can use a variety of local power sources, like diesel generators, solar panels, gas turbines or fuel cells.

Fuel cells are a particularly efficient power generator. Both fuel cells and gas turbines usually rely on another grid — the highly reliable network of natural gas pipelines beneath the ground.

The town of Borrego Springs, which is 86 miles northeast of San Diego and is served by a single long-distance transmission line, uses a microgrid. After a wildfire took down that line in 2007, leaving the town’s 3,500 residents stranded without power for two days, the local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, built a microgrid demonstration project for the town.

Today, if the transmission line feeding power to Borrego Springs goes down, the town can detach itself from the grid and draw power from an array of diesel generators, solar farms, rooftop solar panels and batteries. The system faced an early test in 2013, when severe storms knocked out the power lines and the microgrid fed power to more than 1,000 customers and critical facilities — such as gas stations, stores and a cooling center at the library — for more than 20 hours while the line was being repaired.

The drawback of microgrids is that they can take years to build and they tend to be more expensive than the traditional grid. San Diego Gas & Electric relied on $13 million in state and federal grants to set up the Borrego Springs project and is still working to refine the system. But the costs of blackouts can also be high: Borrego Springs has a large elderly population and can experience 100-degree heat in the summer.

Interest in microgrids is rapidly growing around the United States. Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, Alcatraz Island and an affordable housing complex in Brooklyn all have versions of microgrids that can operate autonomously when the larger power grid goes down. And while many of these microgrids rely on diesel or gas power to provide electricity around the clock, some are incorporating cleaner energies like solar power and batteries as the prices of those technologies drop.

“A lot of interest in minigrids in the United States has been in response to disasters,” said Paulina Jaramillo, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “Large centralized grids usually have a cost advantage because of economies of scale, but if there are reliability risks, it makes sense for communities to take into account the cost of those outages.”

In the earliest years of electrical service in cities, all the networks were so small that they were, effectively, microgrids, said Harold L. Platt, author of “The Electric City” and professor of history emeritus at Loyola University Chicago.

“From the 1900s into the nuclear era, you could keep building them bigger and bigger,” Mr. Platt said. “You achieve efficiencies by having high-voltage transmission lines, so you could connect all these local grids and power them from these giant generator stations.”

The expansion meant efficiency, but also the potential for much larger outages — as in 2003, when power lines in Ohio sagged into trees and became inoperable, setting off a blackout that swept north as far as Canada and then down the East Coast of the United States. The cost of a line sparking or shorting out in dry zones like the California hills can be far greater — leading to not just a blackout but also a fire.

Mark Feasel, vice president of Smart Grid at Schneider Electric, said that the argument that utilities or private organizations lack the expertise to set up microgrids no longer holds. Schneider, for example, offers a service that designs the system, connects the various sources of power and provides the technology to operate it.

That service provides a “bespoke utility” for customers, Mr. Feasel said. He said there is “nothing standing in the way” of using those microgrids in California, except that regulated utilities like PG&E rely on the public utility commission to allow spending on such projects and create regulations to make the approach viable. The state commissions are often reluctant to make those outlays, Mr. Feasel said.

“Which is why the real innovation is happening outside the utility structure,” Mr. Feasel said.

The California Public Utilities Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

K.R. Sridhar, the chief executive of Bloom Energy, a company based in Silicon Valley that makes fuel cell-based microgrids, called them a “homegrown technology” in California.

“This is a technology that has to be adopted in California to save property and the lives of people,” Mr. Sridhar said.

“In spite of that, political leadership and the regulatory framework is not enabling this,” Mr. Sridhar said. “The people of California have a right to be upset at its leadership and demand better solutions, because they exist.”

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