California Burning
June 19, 2019

Pacific Gas & Electric reached a settlement with 14 local California governments on Tuesday to pay $1 billion in damages for a series of wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes. PG&E, which declared bankruptcy in January in anticipation of tens of billions in wildfire-related damages, said Tuesday's settlement is "an important first step toward an orderly, fair, and expeditious resolution of wildfire claims." Baron & Budd, the Texas law firm representing the 14 California communities, said the settlement will cover "taxpayer losses."

"This money will help local government and taxpayers rebuild their communities after several years of devastating wildfires," Baron & Budd said in a statement. "The cities and counties will be in a better position to help their citizens rebuild and move forward." The town of Paradise, mostly destroyed in 2018's Camp Fire, will get $270 million, and other money will cover damages from a 2015 fire in Butte County and 2017 fires in Northern California wine country. PG&E's downed power lines have been linked to several wildfires in the state. Peter Weber

August 14, 2018

On Monday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said a firefighter from Utah has died battling the Mendocino Complex fire in Northern California. Cal Fire did not identify the firefighter, saying "fact finding on the accident is ongoing and notification of the next of kin in progress." The Mendocino Complex fire, the largest in California's recorded history, has burned about 350,000 acres and destroyed 139 homes in Lake, Mendocino, and Colusa counties. One of the two conjoined fires, the Ranch Fire, is completely contained while the River Fire is 59 percent contained.

It has been an unusually hot and destructive summer for wildfires in California, and more than 40 people have been killed in fires throughout the state since last fall, the Los Angeles Times reports. Recently, two firefighters died battling the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite, and the Carr Fire claimed eight lives: a firefighter, bulldozer operator, mechanic, PG&E utility worker, and four civilians. Peter Weber

August 6, 2018

The Mendocino Complex Fire, twin wildfires about 100 miles north of San Francisco, is now the largest blaze recorded in California history, with 283,800 acres burned as of Monday evening and the fire only 30 percent contained. "We broke the record," said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). "That's one of those records you don't want to see." The previous holder of the unwanted record was the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties late last year, with more than 281,000 acres singed, though the fire last summer in Santa Rosa and Northern California wine country was more destructive of property and lives.

Primed by years of drought, California has experienced four of its five worst wildfires on record since 2012. Currently, 18 fires are burning over a combined 559,000 acres in California, the Los Angeles Times reports. The deadliest so far has been the Carr Fire outside Redding, which has killed seven people and is 45 percent contained. Though bigger, the Mendocino Complex blaze has destroyed fewer structures so far; evacuations have been ordered in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties. Peter Weber

December 5, 2017

On Monday evening, a fire started in the foothills north of Santa Paula in Ventura County, California, near Thomas Aquinas College. Fed by strong winds of up to 50 miles per hour, it soon grew to hundreds then thousands of acres, forcing evacuations and leaving more than 260,000 customers without power in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. By early Tuesday, the Thomas fire had spread to the city of Ventura. One person has been reported killed in a traffic accident on a road closed because of the flames.

Fire officials expected it will burn at least 50,000 acres between Ventura and Santa Paula.

This has already been the worst year ever recorded for wildfires in California, the Los Angeles Times reports. More than 40 people were killed in October alone as a series of devastating wildfires swept through wine country north of San Francisco. Peter Weber

October 12, 2017

The numbers from the 22 wildfires blazing through Northern California's wine country are already terrible: at least 23 dead, with more fatalities expected; more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed, including at least five wineries; 265 square miles, or 170,000 acres, of scorched or burning land; 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze, some working at least 40 hours straight; tens of thousands of people under mandatory evacuation, including all of Geyserville and Calistoga. But firefighters are worried about what's coming Thursday: Diablo winds of up to 45 mph are forecast to sweep through the area, with little or no humidity.

"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday. "We are literally looking at explosive vegetation." Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said that California has "had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over." And "we are at very low containment on most of these," added Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "These fires are literally burning faster than firefighters can run."

Investigators aren't sure what sparked the fires Sunday night, though they are examining reports that the same high winds that spread the fire rapidly and unpredictably also caused them by knocking down power lines. Peter Weber

September 14, 2015

A 78-square-mile wildfire in California's northern Lake County, just north of Napa County, has killed one person, injured four firefighters, and destroyed at least 400 homes and 1,000 other structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said late Sunday. The conflagration started Saturday and ignited the drought-stricken region, destroying much of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake. It is zero percent contained, Cal Fire said Sunday night.

According to Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin, it's "the worst tragedy Lake County has ever seen." The level of destruction prompted Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to declare a state of emergency for Lake and Napa counties, freeing up already stretched resources and calling in the California National Guard. Brown declared states of emergency for Amador and Calaveras counties on Friday.

California is battling more than a dozen active wildfires, the Los Angeles Times reports, the largest of which has torched 203 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Fresno. That fire, the Rough fire, started July 31 with a lightning strike, and is 36 percent contained, with some 3,000 firefighters battling to quash it and protect the famed sequoia trees in Sequoia National Forest. You can watch footage of the Lake County blaze in the Associated Press video below. Peter Weber

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