California Fire Destroys 12 Structures, Forces Evacuations

Challenging terrain and weather hampered firefighters in Northern California as a blaze grew quickly Thursday afternoon, forcing evacuations as the flames destroyed homes, scorched vegetation and threatened a tortoise sanctuary, authorities said.

The blaze broke out around mid-afternoon in Shasta County, just south of Redding, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The fire quickly grew to 304 acres (123 hectares), Cal Fire said. The Redding Record Searchlight newspaper reported that at least three homes burned. The blaze was 25% contained shortly before 8:30 p.m.

Cal Fire reported Thursday night that 12 structures had been destroyed, though it was not immediately clear how many were residences.

Firefighters aggressively attacked the blaze from the ground and the air, Cal Fire said in a news release, and crews will work overnight to strengthen containment lines and mop up around structures.

An evacuation center was set up at a high school in Anderson, home to about 11,000 residents. Officials didn’t immediately say how many people were under evacuation orders.

Flames briefly threatened Tortoise Acres, a sanctuary dedicated to turtles and tortoises in Anderson, co-owner Katie Hoffman told the San Francisco Chronicle. Hoffman said she managed to evacuate with her horses before receiving word that the property was spared, with the only damage some singed fencing.

The cause of the Peter Fire was under investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Respond to Potentially Brutal Upcoming Fire Season

Thomas FireCalifornia’s perilous experiences with massive wildfires reached an all-time peak in 2017, as the state suffered through its worst blaze in recorded history – the Thomas Fire – and five of its 17 worst fires ever. State officials estimated that about 9,000 wildfires from northern San Diego County to the Oregon border killed at least 46 people and burned about 11,000 structures.

With drought conditions returning in much of the state – and with millions of dead trees in forests ready to serve as an accelerant for new wildfires – 2018 is shaping up as another deadly, dangerous year for the Golden State. But it’s also shaping up as another year of constant second-guessing over state and federal efforts that critics say focus too much on fire suppression instead of fire prevention.

Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service – responsible for dealing with fires in more than half of California’s total land mass – have historically devoted more of their resources to being able to mobilize quickly to respond to fires than to acting beforehand to limit the likelihood, scope and intensity of the blazes. This is driven, critics say, by the antipathy of environmentalists to forest thinning efforts by logging companies, and by the perception that suppression is a more glamorous and eye-catching approach than encouraging property owners to clear dead trees and brush and to maintain defensible spaces around structures.

Cal Fire officials say they are aware of the value of forest thinning – including using “controlled burns” – and have long encouraged property owners to protect themselves by removing potential fire fuel.

But fire ecology experts say the current approach in the Golden State isn’t up to the challenge posed by years of dry, hot conditions in the 21st century with little if any historical precedent in the modern era.

“We will need some very new approaches to deal with both the increasing hazard of fire and our increasing exposure to it,” Max Moritz, a professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year. “The situation we have created is dangerous, and without a major shift in perspective it will only get worse.”

Has state’s official fire strategy been ignored?

But there isn’t just a gap between what experts say should be done and how state and national fire agencies use their resources. With Cal Fire, an argument can be made that there has been a lack of follow-through on a key internal mission statement.

In 2010, the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection approved a new Strategic Fire Plan for California that the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s website billed as reflecting significant new changes from the previous plan put forth in 1995. It embraced a basic approach that put a heavy emphasis on prevention.

“The California Fire Plan is the state’s road map for reducing the risk of wildfire. The Fire Plan is a cooperative effort between the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection,” the website explained. “By placing the emphasis on what needs to be done long before a fire starts, the Fire Plan looks to reduce fire fighting costs and property losses, increase firefighter safety and to contribute to ecosystem health.”

The intent of the plan was on display in successful efforts to persuade the state Legislature in 2011 to enact a $117 fee assessed on more than 800,000 rural property owners to pay for fire prevention efforts. State fire officials depicted the fee as crucial to efforts to minimize blazes on nearly 23 million acres of state land deemed to be in high fire risk regions.

But in October 2015 – after a series of destructive wildfires in Northern California – the Sacramento Bee reported that state officials had sat on $43 million in unspent funds generated by the fee despite warnings going into that fall fire season of extreme risks in many rural areas.

State officials said they were being prudent. But the Bee compared the fire prevention special fund with other designated state accounts and found it had set aside about more than half of annual receipts, more than double the average of 25 percent in other similar specialized funds.

The fire prevention fee was suspended by the Legislature last summer at the behest of a handful of Republican lawmakers who voted with Democrats to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program. Going forward, revenue from cap-and-trade auctions is supposed to fund fire prevention efforts on state lands previously funded by the fee.

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Thomas Fire California’s Biggest Ever

The Thomas fire in Southern California is officially the largest in the history of the state after burning through 273,400 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Associated Press.

The AP notes:

The Thomas fire took only 2 weeks to burn its way into history books as unrelenting winds and parched weather turned everything in its path to tinder – including more than 700 homes.

The fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

That was 154 acres larger than California’s previous fire record holder – the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County that killed 15 people.

The Cedar fire had been recognized as the biggest California wildfire in terms of acreage since 1932. Some fires before that date undoubtedly were larger but records are unreliable, according to state fire officials.

The fire is now 65 percent contained. It is unlikely to expand. The Los Angeles Times notes: “Any new growth on the Thomas fire will probably be due to controlled burns by firefighters.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) declared at 6 a.m. on Dec. 23 that the Tomas fire …

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CARTOON: Cal Fire Responds

Cal Fire Cartoon

Wolverton, Cagle Cartoons

Sex Photos on State Cellphones Surface in Cal Fire Discipline Cases

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

One Cal Fire captain supposedly received an Internet link from a colleague for a private sex club on his state cellphone. An assistant chief allegedly thought nothing of a supervisor slapping the rear end of a female cadet. Investigators said another captain put hundreds of sexually explicit pictures of his wife on his state cellphone.

And, according to Cal Fire employee discipline records released Friday, there was drinking on the job. Sometimes a lot of it.

Those allegations and others have surfaced in employee disciplinary documents released Friday that portray some of the department’s employees as indulgent frat boys on state time.

The department fired one accused manager …

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