california wildfires
September 15, 2020

Firefighters are battling flames within 500 feet of the 116-year-old Mt. Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles County.

The Bobcat fire has been burning in the Angeles National Forest since Sept. 6, and crossed containment lines overnight. The U.S. Forest Service said crews are fighting the blaze on the ground and from the air, and additional personnel have been brought in to help.

Mt. Wilson Observatory was founded by George Ellery Hale in 1904, and visitors are able to look through its 60-inch telescope that was put in place in 1908. The first telescopes were brought up to the observatory on the backs of burros, and the site has been visited by such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and Stephen Hawking.

There are also several radio, television, and cell towers on Mt. Wilson, and L.A. County Fire Capt. David Dantic told the Los Angeles Times it is possible there could be disruptions due to the fire, which is only three percent contained. The blaze has now grown to more than 40,000 acres, and fire authorities are concerned that 80 historic cabins and a camp in Big Santa Anita Canyon were destroyed on Sunday and Monday as flames engulfed the area. Catherine Garcia

September 8, 2020

On Tuesday, 14 firefighters trying to protect the Nacimiento Fire Station in California's Los Padres National Forest were overtaken by flames, and one is now in critical condition at a Fresno hospital, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The firefighters all suffered burns and smoke inhalation, and two others were also airlifted to the hospital, where they are in fair condition. The station was destroyed. The fire broke out several weeks ago and has been burning ever since, but doubled in size overnight, The Associated Press reports. A man has been arrested and charged with arson in connection with the blaze.

So far this year, fires have scorched nearly 2.3 million acres across California. There are more than 24 major fires now burning in the state, and at least 14,000 firefighters are battling the blazes. Rescuers also helped get 164 hikers out of the Sierra National Forest early Tuesday, using military helicopters to airlift them out of danger. Due to the Creek Fire, the only road into the Vermilion Valley Resort was closed on Sunday, trapping the hikers.

"This is emblematic of how fast that fire was moving, plus the physical geography of that environment with one road in and one road out," Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, told AP. "It's scary enough to drive there when nothing is burning. Unless you wanted an absolute human disaster, you had to move fast." Catherine Garcia

December 14, 2019

Come back with a better plan.

That's essentially what California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday told Pacific Gas & Electric after he rejected the utility company's plan to pull itself out of bankruptcy and pay victims of California's wildfires. Newsom said the proposal didn't meet safety requirements under state law and that PG&E fell "woefully short" of the safety benchmark. The company reportedly won't receive state assistance without implementing major changes to its plan. Without that money, it's future is murky.

"For too long, PG&E has been mismanaged, failed to make adequate investments in fire safety and fire prevention, and neglected critical infrastructure," Newsom said in a letter. "PG&E has simply violated the public trust."

PG&E, whose faulty equipment has been blamed for sparking some the state's recent fires, is on the hook for $30 billion in financial liabilities from California. The company didn't actually need Newsom's approval, but asked him to weigh in anyway. Now it looks like the gamble backfired, and PG&E is pushing back against Newsom's comments, arguing its plan does conform to the safety requirements.

PG&E has until Tuesday to revise its plan. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. Tim O'Donnell

March 13, 2019

The 2017 Thomas Fire that killed two people and burned 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties was caused by Southern California Edison power lines, investigators announced Wednesday.

The Ventura County Fire Department and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found during a 13-month investigation that the fire was sparked on Dec. 4, during high winds. When two power lines "came into contact with each other," it created an "electrical arc," the Ventura County Fire Department said in a statement. "The electrical arc deposited hot, burning, or molten material on the ground, in a receptive fuel bed, causing the fire. The common term for this situation is called 'line slap,' and the power line in question is owned by Southern California Edison."

The fire wiped out vegetation north of Montecito, and when heavy rains came through on Jan. 9, 2018, they triggered mudslides. At least 20 people were killed when the hillside came tumbling down on homes below. As a result of the finding, Southern California Edison is now on the hook for $1.3 billion in insurance claims filed by victims of the Thomas Fire, and $400 million in claims related to the mudslides, the Los Angeles Times reports. Catherine Garcia

November 25, 2018

Southern California's Woolsey Fire is 100 percent contained as of Saturday, and northern California's deadly Camp Fire is 98 percent contained as of Saturday night. While the great bulk of firefighting work is now complete, search and rescue operations are still underway.

At least 250 people remain missing in connection to the Camp Fire, down from a high of more than 1,000, and a team of 820 continued search operations over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Heavy rains that helped put out the fire have also complicated search efforts, though officials say it can make work easier for dogs searching for human remains. "One of the things that [rain] does do is it does concentrate the scent into a smaller compartment because of all the ash that was flying around," Craig Covey of the Orange County Fire Authority told a local television station. "It more compacts it, centralizes it, and the dogs can be very successful in that." Bonnie Kristian

November 18, 2018

On Sunday, firefighters continued to make progress against the Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest fire in state history, and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California.

The Camp Fire in Butte County has killed at least 76 people, scorched 149,500 acres, and destroyed 12,786 structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday. There are 993 people unaccounted for in the area. The fire is 60 percent contained.

The Woolsey Fire has burned 96,949 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, destroying 1,130 structures and killing at least three people. The fire is 90 percent contained, with Cal Fire expecting full containment by Thursday.

About four inches of rain is forecast for Butte County late Tuesday through Friday, and close to two inches in Southern California later in the week, which will help both firefighters and air quality but increases the risk of mudslides in burn areas. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2018

Rain is forecast for areas affected by California's deadly Camp Fire in the coming week, with mixed effects anticipated.

The water may help contain the wildfire, which has claimed 76 lives and burned more than 100,000 acres. However, areas already burned lack live plant cover on uneven ground. "It'll bring much-needed relief to the firefighters and to the air quality," Patrick Burke of the National Weather Service told Reuters, "but there's a potential for dangerous mudslides wherever vegetation is burned away on slopes and hills."

More than 1,000 people are listed as missing in connection to the fire, but authorities say that list may contain duplicate names. Some of those listed as missing have called the police to say they are not in any danger, and the total missing count is expected to shrink as further information becomes available. Bonnie Kristian

November 15, 2018

On Thursday, search teams in Northern California discovered seven more bodies in the Camp Fire burn area, bringing the blaze's death toll to 63.

Authorities say there are now 631 people missing, up from 130 on Wednesday evening. The fire, the deadliest in state history, has burned 141,000 acres, destroyed 11,862 structures, and is about 40 percent contained. Most of the deaths occurred in the town of Paradise, which was almost entirely wiped out by the fire. Officials said it could take several weeks to finish searching for victims. Catherine Garcia

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