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Camp Fire (2018)

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date.[10] It is also the deadliest wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet fire in 1918, and is high on the list of the world's deadliest wildfires; it is the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall.[11] It was the world's costliest natural disaster in 2018.[12][13] Named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin,[14] the fire started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County, in Northern California. After exhibiting extreme fire behavior through the community of Concow, an urban firestorm formed in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise.[15][16][17][18] The fire caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing,[5][7] injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres (62,053 ha), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours.[19] The Camp Fire was the most destructive wildfire in history. Total damage was $16.5 billion; one-quarter of the damage, $4 billion, was not insured.[20][21] The fire reached 100 percent containment after seventeen days on November 25, 2018.[22]

Camp Fire (2018)
Camp Fire oli 2018312 Landsat.jpg
The Camp Fire as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite on November 8, 2018
LocationButte County, California
Coordinates39°50′51″N 121°23′42″W / 39.84750°N 121.39500°W / 39.84750; -121.39500Coordinates: 39°50′51″N 121°23′42″W / 39.84750°N 121.39500°W / 39.84750; -121.39500
Statistics
Cost$20 billion[1][2][3][4]
Date(s)November 8, 2018 – contained November 25, 2018
Burned area153,336 acres (62,053 ha)[5]
CauseUnder investigation
Buildings
destroyed
18,804[6]
Fatalities86 civilians[5][7]
Non-fatal injuries12 civilians and 5 firefighters[8]
Missing people3[9]
Map
Camp Fire (2018) is located in California
Camp Fire (2018)
The fire's location in northern California

Contents

BackgroundEdit

Fire hazard studiesEdit

In 2005, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) released a fire management plan for the region, which warned that the town of Paradise was at risk for an ember-driven conflagration similar to the Oakland firestorm of 1991.[23] The report stated "the greatest risk to the ridge communities is from an East Wind driven fire that originates above the communities and blows downhill through developed areas."[23]

The Camp Fire started in an area that experienced 13 large wildfires since 1999.[24] The area was most recently burned in 2008 following the Humboldt Fire[25] and a larger Butte Lightning Complex fires.[26] In June 2009, a Butte County civil grand jury report concluded that the roads leading from Paradise and the Upper Ridge communities had "significant constraints" and "capacity limitations" that limited their use as an evacuation route.[27] The report noted road conditions such as sharp curves, inadequate shoulders, and fire hazards adjacent to shoulders such as "fire fuel and steep slopes, which increases the fire danger and the possibility of being closed due to fire and or smoke."[27] The report also recommended a moratorium on new home construction in fire-prone areas.[24] In September 2009, the Butte County Board of Supervisors called the grand jury report "not reasonable," citing improved building codes and fire prevention requirements as arguments against a moratorium.[24]

Based on these reports, there had been warnings to Paradise City planners that they were not including study results in new plans. For example, in 2009, the town of Paradise proposed a reduced number of travel lanes on the roadways and received state funding from the California Department of Transportation to implement a road diet along Skyway, Pearson Road, and Clark Road, three of the town's main thoroughfares and evacuation routes.[23][28]

In March 2015, an updated plan codified changes made after the 2008 fires that would convert Skyway into a one-way route during emergencies, effectively doubling its capacity.[23]

Pre-fire fire prevention effortsEdit

Residential development in wildland-urban interface areas such as Paradise and its vicinity are often located in state responsibility areas, where the State of California provides fire prevention and suppression.[29] Due to a need for increased state resources to safeguard these communities, a special fee was imposed on property owners starting in 2011 to provide for fire prevention.[30]

However, after collecting and spending $470 million, a measure to suspend and repeal the fee was approved by the California State Legislature in July 2017.[30] The fee was unpopular with Republican lawmakers, landowners, and taxpayer groups; Assemblyman Devon Mathis claimed, "not one cent has gone to putting more boots on the ground."[30] Initially, much of the revenue funded existing fire programs; the process of building out new prevention programs was slow. However, the revenue did fund important projects, such as secondary evacuation routes and fuel reduction zones.[30][31]

In August 2018, three months before the fire, fire safe councils in the Paradise region were awarded $5 million dollars in grants from this program for fuel reduction and education projects.[32]

Despite years of fuel reduction funded by special fees, numerous wildfires ravaged wildland-urban communities. Investigations found that PG&E powerline failures during high winds caused many of the fires. Utilities have the power to disable power lines, and PG&E shut off power following the 2018 North Bay fires.[33] A policy it adopted subsequent to the North Bay fires precluded shutting off lines carrying more than 115kV because of the number of customers this shutdown had negatively impacted.[33]

Infrastructure oversight inspectionEdit

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is responsible to inspect PG&E's electrical infrastructure. The scope of the CPUC in relation to the scope of electrical infrastructure is unbalanced and the CPUC has had difficulty fulfilling their oversight mandate.[34] The section of electrical infrastructure that is suspected as the origin of the Camp Fire had not been inspected by the CPUC in six years--many of the towers are original to the Upper North Fork Feather River Project constructed around the turn of the 20th century.[34] This section is the 115kV Caribou-Palermo line. A 2012 wind storm brought down five towers.[34] In a 2011 audit, the CPUC found several thousand deficiencies, some of which PG&E disputed;[34] it isn't clear if the number of deficiencies on the Caribou-Palermo line is unusually high. In May 2018, the CPUC gave PG&E permission to replace the aging line (the design did not include line hardening through high fire hazard areas).[35]

Wildfire conditions and behaviorEdit

Conditions immediately leading up to and during the fire combined to create a highly combustible fuel load:[17]

  • Drought conditions for several years
  • Heavy grass cover sprouted by a late spring rainfall
  • Dry weather for seven months
  • Low humidity due to several wind events (23% dropping to 10%)
  • Unusually dry fuel (5% 1,000-hr. moisture level)
  • Hot gusting high wind event the day of the fire with gusts of 25-35 mph (similar in concept though different from the Diablo wind in the Coastal Range Mountains).

The day of the fire, the fuel Energy Release Component was above the historic record for November 8; the first fall rain is normally before Nov. 1. In Paradise, across from Rattlesnake Creek, the fuel had never burned in recorded history. In addition, steep canyons in the area make access difficult.[17] A Cal Fire report noted, "When the fire reached the town of Paradise, an urban firestorm began to spread from building to building, independent of vegetation, similar to the firestorm that consumed Hamburg, Germany, in 1943."[17][18][16][15]

TimelineEdit

PG&E notified customers for two days before Nov. 8 that it might shut down power due to a forecast of high winds and low humidity. However, ultimately, PG&E did not.

The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for most of Northern California's interior, as well as Southern California, through the morning of November 9.

The "Jarbo winds"[36] form as a hot katabatic wind that has been heated by compression as the elevation drops.

Around 6:15 a.m., there was a problem on a PG&E transmission line above Poe Dam.[4]

A fire was discovered before sunrise on Thursday, November 8, 2018. It was first reported by a Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) Rock Creek Powerhouse worker at 6:33 a.m. PST as having been told by an employee there was a fire burning under power lines near Pulga, California in Butte County. The location is accessed by Camp Creek Road above Poe Dam and the Feather River railroad tracks. Soon after this report, a size-up fire officer was dispatched. Within the next 5-10 minutes, a few other people, most of them other Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) workers, called in about the fire. Another call while the firefighter was en route was from someone directly observing the fire and reported high winds on it.[37] PG&E later reported that power lines were down.[38]

Arriving ten minutes later, Captain Matt MacKenzie, the first unit on scene, observed rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior.[39] Possibly saving many, he radioed in a request for resources and evacuations with a note, "this has got potential for a major incident,” and that he was “still working on [finding a way to] access [the fire].” Air resources had to wait until 30 minutes after sunrise (6:44 a.m. on Nov 8) which would be 7:14 a.m., but due to winds, aircraft were not on the fire until the afternoon. At 7:23 a.m. the Butte County Sheriff's Office began a sequence of ordered evacuations of Paradise and other communities beginning with Pulga.[40][41][42]

The community of Concow did not receive an evacuation warning before the fire arrived less than twenty minutes later. By 8 a.m. the fire entered the town of Paradise. At some point that day, emergency shelters were established.[43][44] Wind speeds approached 50 miles per hour (22 m/s), allowing the fire to grow rapidly.[45] Most residents of Concow and many residents of Paradise were unable to evacuate before the fire arrived. Due to the speed of the fire, firefighters for the most part never attempted to prevent the flames from entering Concow or Paradise, and instead sought to help people get out alive.[46] According to Captain Scott McLean of Cal Fire, "Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it's that kind of devastation. The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out."[47]

The first hours saw a cascade of failures in the emergency alert system, rooted in its patchwork, opt-in nature, and compounded by a loss of 17 cell towers.[48] This point of failure in a fast-moving emergency allowed no room for error. Thousands of 911 calls inundated two emergency dispatchers on duty. Emergency alerts suffered human error as city officials failed to include four at-risk areas of the city in evacuation orders[48] and technical error as emergency alerts failed to reach 94 percent of residents in some areas and at best the failure rate was 25 percent.[48]

On November 10, an estimate placed the number of structures destroyed at 6,713 which surpassed the Tubbs Fire as the most destructive wildfire in California history.[49][50]

By November 15, 5,596 firefighters, 622 engines, 75 water tenders, 101 fire crews, 103 bulldozers, and 24 helicopters from all over the Western United States were deployed.[51]

In the first week the fire burned tens of thousands of acres per day. Containment on the western half was achieved when the fire reached primary highway and roadway arteries that formed barriers. In the second week the fire expanded by several thousand acres per day along a large uncontained fireline. Each day containment increased by 5 percent along the uncontained eastern half of the fire that expanded into open timber and high country.

  • November 9, the fire had burned 20,000 acres (8,100 ha).[52]
  • November 10, the fire was 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) and 20 percent contained.
  • November 13, the fire was 125,000 acres (51,000 ha) and 30 percent contained.[53] [54][55]
  • November 15, the fire was 140,000 acres and 40 percent contained.[54]
  • November 16, the fire was 146,000 acres and 50 percent contained.
  • November 17, the fire was 149,000 acres and 55 percent contained.
  • November 21, 85 percent containment; with rain falling, fire activity from Nov 21-on described as minimal. [56] [57]
  • November 22, 90 percent containment.[58][59][60][61]

On the first day there were a large number of fatalities, but they were not found quickly. Discovery of these early fatalities took place over the course of the following two weeks. In the first week, nearly ten victims per day were found. In the second week, that lowered to several victims per day. Victims were still being found in the third week and beyond.

  • Nov. 10, Fourteen bodies were discovered, bringing casualties to 23.
  • Nov. 11, increased to 29 after another six bodies discovered.[62]
  • Nov. 13, increased to 48, making it the single-deadliest wildfire in California history, surpassing the 1933 Griffith Park Fire, which killed 29 people.[53][63]
  • Nov. 16, increased from 63 to 71.[64]
  • Nov. 17, An additional five deaths brought the total to 76. President Donald Trump, Governor Jerry Brown, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, and FEMA director Brock Long toured the Paradise area, and they held a short conference in the afternoon.[65]
  • Nov. 18, raised to 77.[66]
  • Nov. 19, raised to 79.[67]
  • Nov. 21, raised to 83.[5]

Heavy rain fell starting on Wednesday, November 21 which helped contain the fire.[68] Fire crews pulled back and let the rain put out the remaining fires while teams searched for victims.[69]

On November 25, 2018, Cal Fire announced that the fire had reached 100 percent containment.[22]

ImpactEdit

Hot spots and a large plume of smoke from the Camp Fire in Northern California were seen from space on Thursday, November 8.

Loss of life and structural damageEdit

The community of Concow and the town of Paradise were destroyed within the first six hours of the fire,[70][71] losing an estimated 95 percent of their buildings. The town of Magalia also suffered substantial damage, and the community of Pulga, California suffered some. At least 19,000 buildings were destroyed, most of them homes, but five public schools in Paradise, a rest home, churches, a hospital, a Christmas tree farm, a large shopping center anchored by a Safeway, several fast food chains, such as Black Bear Diner and McDonald's, and numerous small businesses, as well.[71][54][72][73] The Honey Run Covered Bridge over nearby Butte Creek, the last three-span Pratt-style truss bridge in the United States, was incinerated on November 10.[74][75]

As of December 13, Butte County Sheriff's Department reported a partial death count for each community: 38 in Paradise, 6 in Concow, 7 in Magalia.[76]

In two separate incidents a pair of fire captains, a firefighter, and a pair of prison inmate firefighters were burned.[77] The first incident was a burnover, and the second incident was an exploding propane tank.

 
The San Francisco skyline as seen from Coit Tower during the Camp Fire
 
The Bay Bridge in San Francisco, California. The photo on the left was taken November 16, 2018, and the one on the right October 14, 2018.
 
Bay Area air quality suffered, and for an unprecedented two days exceeded an Air Quality Index of 200.[78]

Summary of impact on population and first responders reported by Cal Fire.

Missing, Injured, Fatalities, and Evacuated
Occupation Missing Injured Fatalities Evacuated
Civilian 3[9] 12[8] 86[7][5] 52,000[79]
Firefighter 0 5[8] 0 n/a
Total 3 17 86 52,000

Summary of structural damage reported by Cal Fire.

Estimates of Damaged and Destroyed Structures;[6]
Structure Type Damaged Destroyed Total by Type
Single Family Residential ~465 ~9,879 10,344
Multiple Family Residential* ~22 ~276 298
Mobile home Residential* ~6 ~3,695 3,701
Mixed Commercial/Residential* ~0 ~11 11
Commercial ~105 ~514 619
Other ~77 ~4,286 4,363
Total 675 18,661 19,336

Note: Cal Fire damage updates do not contain categories tagged with *, however, a count was given November 17; also, '~' denotes an estimate.

EnvironmentalEdit

The smoke from the fire resulted in widespread air pollution throughout the San Francisco Bay Area[80] and Central Valley,[81] prompting the closure of public schools in five Bay Area counties and dozens of districts in the Sacramento metropolitan area on November 16.[82][83] Smoke was reportedly visible as far away as New York City after smoke plumes traveled a distance of over 3,000 miles.[84] John Balmes, a physician at the University of California, Berkeley who sits on the California Air Resources Board, noted that the fire "[resulted in] the worst air pollution [ever] for the Bay Area and northern California."[85]

Recovery efforts were slowed as crews tested burned debris for environmental contaminants such as asbestos, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, arsenic, dioxins, and other hazardous materials that may have burned or spread in the fire.[86]

The Butte County Health Officer declared the burned region uninhabitable. A strong warning was issued against rehabitation, noting, "[you] will be exposed to hazardous materials." [87]

Displacement and devastationEdit

The fire forced the evacuation of Paradise, Magalia, Centerville, Concow, Pulga, Butte Creek Canyon, Berry Creek and Yankee Hill and threatened the communities of Butte Valley, Chico, Forest Ranch, Helltown, Inskip, Oroville, and Stirling City.[88][46]

 
The Camp Fire smoke plume, November 10, 2018. Bucks Lake is on the far left.
 
Growth of the Camp Fire from November 7 through November 12, 2018.

Traffic jams on the few evacuation routes led to cars being abandoned while people evacuated on foot, causing at least four deaths when the fire overtook people who were trapped in their vehicles, as well as one person outside a vehicle.[89] Many seniors were evacuated by passersby and neighbors, with at least one account of dozens of evacuees jumping into a reservoir to escape the flames.[90]

EconomicEdit

The volume of insurance claims overwhelmed Merced Property and Casualty Company, a small insurer founded in 1906, to the point of insolvency (policyholders' surplus $25M). In response to a notice given by the company, the California Department of Insurance reviewed and then placed it into liquidation. This allows the California Insurance Guarantee Association, a state guaranty association, to cover claims. The Department of Insurance will continue with a review of all insurers with a domicile in California so to determine the exposure of each to Camp Fire losses.[91] An estimate by the Los Angeles Times of Merced Property and Casualty Company's assets and reinsurance shows that they would only be able to cover 150 homes out of the 14,000 homes destroyed in a region where they were one of the only companies that still provided fire insurance policies despite the region being categorized as a high fire-hazard severity zone by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This is the only known instance of an insurance company becoming insolvent from a single event.[92]

Prior to the fire, Chico had a housing vacancy rate of less than 3 percent. The loss of several thousand residences placed additional strain on Butte County's housing market. Average list prices for homes were reported to have increased by more than 10 percent.[93][94]

On November 16, the Chico city council passed an emergency ordinance to prohibit price gouging in Chico, by preventing the cost of rent, goods or services from being increased by more than 10 percent for 6 months.[95]

Facing potential liabilities of $30 billion from the wildfire, the electrical utility that was responsible for the transmission line suspected of sparking the wildfire, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), on January 14, 2019, they began the process of filing for bankruptcy with a 15-day notice of intention to file for bankruptcy protection.[2] Because they are an unsecured creditor which has the same priority as bondholders and will be paid in proportion to their claim size if anything is left after secured and priority claims are paid; it nearly ensures that fire survivors won't get paid.[96]

InvestigationEdit

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and state utility regulators are investigating Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to determine if they complied with state laws in the areas burned in the fire. The Associated Press noted the fire started near a property where PG&E detected sparks on the day before its outbreak.[97][98] PG&E is a convicted felon due to a gas pipeline explosion in 2010 and is on probation which means penalties for subsequent crimes are enhanced.[99][100] PG&E also reported damage to the Caribou-Palermo transmission line 15 minutes before flames were first reported under the wires; the same line was previously damaged in a windstorm in December 2012.[101]

Investigators believe that the failure of a badly maintained steel hook holding up a high voltage line was a key cause of the fire.[102] A PG&E report to CPUC on December 11, 2018 said that "it had found a hook designed to hold up power lines on the tower was broken before the fire, and that the pieces showed wear."[33]

A distribution line in Concow malfunctioned a half hour later, which is being eyed as a possible second ignition source.[101]

Following the fire, multiple fire victims sued PG&E and its parent company in San Francisco County Superior Court, accusing PG&E of failure to properly maintain its infrastructure and equipment but no definite cause has been determined yet.[103]

ResponseEdit

First respondersEdit

First responders were limited by an insufficient number of cellular towers, which resulted in communication difficulties and reduced WiFi speed: "Paradise quickly lost its equipment, the California Public Utilities Commission confirmed."[104] Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T CEO, committed to fixing this problem as AT&T added mobile sites to improve coverage.[105] Two weeks into the fire, 66 cell towers were still damaged or out of service, and the remaining cell infrastructure was overloaded.[48]

There was initial widespread confusion about reports of missing people; this limited the search for victims. The Butte County Sheriff's Office opened a call center, staffed daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., to provide and receive information and inquiries on missing persons.[106][107]

The North Valley Animal Disaster Group worked with law enforcement and other shelters, rescue groups and independent operations to rescue and reunite pets and families, and established an animal shelter at the Chico Airport.[108]

Fire resources were stretched as the fire began on the same day as the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire in Southern California; requiring on just the Camp Fire alone the equivalent of the entire 6,000 Cal Fire full-time fire professionals and both fires pulled resources from 17 states to respond.[109][110]

By the second day of the fire, only half the fire resources had assembled.[111] The initial response within Paradise was shouldered by Paradise's three fire engines in stations 81, 82, and 83, and the two engines at Butte County Cal Fire Station 35.[112]

At the height of deployment, there were applied resources of 5,596 firefighters (200 of these were prisoners[113]), 622 engines, 75 water tenders, 101 fire crews, 103 bulldozers, 24 helicopters carrying 600 gal buckets, and 12 fixed-wing aircraft on the fireline.[51]

Initially an offer of air support with a pair of 810 gal Air Tractor AT-802 fixed-wing aircraft was declined.[114][115] Cal Fire Chico Air Attack Base Battalion Chief Shem Hawkins noted, "We try to shy away from single-engine air tankers" and that "Fire Boss [AT-802s] are [only] good in places with large water sources."[114] By the first afternoon, there were 9 fixed-wing aircraft on the fire, including 5 1,200 gal S-2 Trackers, 3 3,000 gal BAE 146s, and 1 12,000 gal DC-10 Air Tanker.[114] Eventually, three additional aircraft were deployed from out of state, including 2 1,620 gal CL-415 Super Scoopers that arrived from their home in Washington on November 9[116] and a 19,600 gal 747 Supertanker that arrived from its home in Colorado on November 11 after gaining a contract to work on federal land.[117][118][119]

The California National Guard activated 700 soldiers to assist,[120] including 100 military police officers from the 49th Brigade to provide security and search for remains with the assistance of 22 cadaver dogs.[121][122] The 2632nd Transportation company provided haul trucks.[123] The 140th Regiment provided air support. The 224th Sustainment Brigade constructed Alaska tents for temporary facilities.[124]

A Black Hawk helicopter from California's 140th Aviation Regiment drops buckets of water on the Camp Fire, November 14, 2018.
A Black Hawk helicopter from California's 140th Aviation Regiment drops buckets of water in the Feather River Canyon located on the northeast corner of the Camp Fire; Friday, November 16, 2018.

Evacuation centersEdit

From November 8 to December 1, an encampment formed in a vacant lot next to the Walmart store in nearby Chico.[125] The camp was in addition to motel room vouchers from FEMA and ten shelters established by the Red Cross and churches to house evacuees.[126] Volunteers from across the region came to the camp and provided services for food, shelter, and sanitation; fire refugees referred to their camp as 'Wallywood.'[127] The camp population swelled to over a thousand people.[128] Butte County has a persistent homeless population of 7,500 people; many reside in Chico,[129] and some campers were revealed as resident homeless people who did not live in the fire zone.[130] On December 1, the firefighter camp facilities at the Butte County Fairgrounds became available, whereupon the Walmart camp was closed and the field fenced off, with the remaining fifty refugees relocated to the firefighters’ camp.[125]

Mental health supportEdit

Recovery efforts included supporting the mental health of Camp Fire victims, particularly the youth.[131][132] Some former residents reported survivor guilt, troubling dreams, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress.[133][134] To ease the stress on fire victims, several people brought therapy dogs from the Butte Humane Society’s Animal Assisted Wellness program.[135] Lise Van Susteren summarized the burden these children bear in experiencing climate change, "These kids are at the tip of the spear.”[136][137]

Environmental cleanupEdit

The Camp Fire cleanup was the largest hazardous material cleanup in State history.[138] Due to the development time to clean up a town of nearly 30,000 people and surrounding rural metro region of another 3,000 people and the infeasible task of developing temporary housing, residents were allowed to take up residence on their burned-out lots which exposed them to hazardous materials.[139] Winter rains began at the end of the Camp Fire and as a result, hazardous contaminants soaked into the ground and ran into waterway tributaries which raised concerns for the drinking water.[140] Another concern was for benzene contamination from burning plastic pipes, Paradise tested sections of their water supply and these passed, "22 out of 24 water systems were tested."[140] For water tributaries within the 244-square-mile burn, "a months-long water monitoring program [sampled] surface water at least seven times through spring 2019."[140] While heavy metals and dioxins were concerns, a more pressing public health issue was an intestinal parasite, cryptosporidium, which as Gina Solomon, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, explained, bare soil provided greater access to water systems.[140]

FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) collaborated on developing a site to process firezone demolition and remediation debris.[141][142] Of 50 potential sites within 30 miles of Paradise they identified the 200-acre Koppers Superfund Site in Oroville as a suitable site based on an industrial zoning and a rail spur. The site can support processing 400 truckloads of non-toxic concrete and metal per day. Most of the non-toxic concrete and some metals will be recycled onsite as construction materials.[143] Hazardous waste, such as electronics, car batteries, and asbestos will go directly to landfills in California and Nevada.

Situation of wildland and climateEdit

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Camp Fire burned across an area that had been burned to bare dirt by a hot burning wildfire ten years earlier and then salvage-logged; fire ecologist Chad Hanson suggested that brush piles and young trees left over after the salvage logging may have provided fast-burning fuels that aided the fire's rapid spread.[144] The Camp Fire was initially fueled by dry grass amid sparse pine and oak woodlands.[145] This has driven most of the post-event discussion away from timber management as a future fire prevention solution.[146]

What is undisputed is that the fire was largely driven by extreme weather conditions—high winds and low humidity—and spread through fuels parched by more than 200 days without precipitation, part of a statewide drought related to climate change.[147][144]

The SacBee looked at if residential development is still appropriate in the Sierra Nevada wildland-urban zones, quoting a former Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District chief, "There’s just some places a subdivision shouldn’t be built.” Issues include if development can be safe, and if safe, what building codes and emergency response infrastructure would be needed.[148] That discussion pointed to other Sierra Foothill communities similar to Paradise. Cal Fire stated, "Those kinds of geographic features are present in many foothill towns."[148] Those features include proximity and alignment to river canyons which is what channeled wind-fed flames over Concow and into Paradise. Visiting Professor Moritz (UC Santa Barbara) noted, “if we were to go back and do the wind mapping, we would find that at some intervals, these areas are prone to these north and northeasterly [strong hot autumn wind] events.”[149]

PoliticalEdit

The CPUC voted December 15, 2018, to improve rules governing when utilities should disable power lines to reduce the risk of fires.[33]

Policymakers are looking at what options are available to harden the State's energy distribution infrastructure against wildfires. The State is reliant on a system of central electrical generation with distribution to end users. A proposal is to invest in underground distribution similar to modern suburban electrical distribution; in November 2018, PG&E began a North Bay pilot to test hardening electrical infrastructure against wildfires.[150] It is anticipated that buried power lines will reduce the risk of sparking wildfires. However, that solution increases installing high-energy distribution cost by 10 times (overhead is $500,000 per mile, while underground is $5 million per mile). [151]:1 PG&E diverted half the funds that were intended for moving electrical underground.[152] Hanging wires on poles, while hazardous, is less expensive and has been used to reduce infrastructure costs going back to the early 20th century; in rural areas of California, horses were still a primary means of transportation--the electrical towers, under which the Camp Fire originated, were installed in the early 1900s. Utilities, such as gas and fiber-optic are usually buried already, however, this is not without difficulties like utility strikes[153] and maintenance access issues.[154] Of 175,000 miles of Californian electrical infrastructure, 80,000 miles is fireprone;[150] of all hazard types, PG&E has 81,000 miles of overhead distribution, 26,000 miles of underground distribution and 18,000 miles of overhead high voltage transmission. As development and buildout of the State economy continues that distribution system will expand, possibly doubling the current system in the next years. Policymakers will decide if an investment in underground distribution is equitable and if the existing distribution should be converted to underground as a single project or as a piecemeal replacement as sections of lines require replacement.

Some suggest burying power lines, which cause many of California’s worst fires. But that costs 10 times as much as stringing them on poles.[155]

A suggestion to reduce cost is to harden the sections of high energy lines that pass through high wind areas upwind of residential communities in the wildland-urban interface, in particular, around river canyons that point to those residential areas.

On November 10, U.S. President, Donald Trump, incorrectly[156][157][158][159] identified poor forest management as the cause of recent wildfires in the state, including the Camp Fire and the concurrent Woolsey Fire in Southern California.[146] In a tweet, he threatened to end federal assistance unless "gross mismanagement of the forests" is remedied.[160]

Trump elaborated on his claims in an interview with Chris Wallace and during his trip to Paradise, stating that "you've got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest — very important" and that "[Finland] spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don't have any problem."[161] Finland's president Sauli Niinistö was baffled by Trump's assertions and denied they had ever talked about raking, leading to an internet phenomenon of Finnish people sharing photos of themselves raking forests.[162]

Fire experts rejected Trump's claims, noting that California is experiencing unusually dry conditions and abnormally high fire danger.[163][158] Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, described Trump's assertion about forest management practices as "demeaning" and "dangerously wrong," noting that 60 percent of California forests are directly managed by the federal government, which has reduced spending on forestry in recent years.[164][156]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit

External 3D models
  Camp Fire MapEsri
(revised when new data are released)
  Butte : US Wildfires
Google crisis map