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The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.[9] 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.[10] It was one of the world's costliest natural disasters in 2018.[11][12] Named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin,[13] the fire started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County, in Northern California. The fire originated above several communities and an east wind drove the fire downhill through developed areas. After exhibiting extreme fire spread, fireline intensity, and spotting behaviors through the rural community of Concow, an urban firestorm formed in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise.[14][15][16][17] The fire caused at least 85 civilian fatalities, with one person still missing,[18] and injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres (62,053 ha) (almost 240 sq. miles), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours.[19] Total damage was $16.5 billion; one-quarter of the damage, $4 billion, was not insured (disproportionately represented by exceptionally low cost uninsured residences versus high cost insured commercial structures).[3][20] Drought was a factor: Paradise, which typically received five inches of rain each summer, got only one-seventh of an inch from the end of May until November 12, 2018. The drought was intensified by climate change.[21][22] With the arrival of the first winter rainstorm of the season, the fire reached 100 percent containment after seventeen days on November 25, 2018.[23][24][25]

Camp Fire
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$16.5 billion[1][2][3][4]
Date(s)November 8, 2018; contained November 25, 2018
Burned area153,336 acres (62,053 ha)
CauseElectrical Fire Transmission by PG&E[5]
Buildings
destroyed
18,804
Fatalities85 civilians[6]
Non-fatal injuries12 civilians and 5 firefighters[7]
Missing people1 civilian[8]
Evacuated52,000
Map
Camp Fire (2018) is located in California
Camp Fire (2018)
The fire's location in northern California

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.[26] 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."[26]

The Camp Fire started in an area that experienced 13 large wildfires since 1999.[27] The area was most recently burned in 2008 following the Humboldt Fire[28] and the larger Butte Lightning Complex fires.[29] In June 2009, a Butte County civil grand jury report concluded that roads leading from Paradise and Upper Ridge communities had "significant constraints" and "capacity limitations" on their use as evacuation routes.[30] The report noted road conditions "which increases the fire danger and the possibility of being closed due to fire and or smoke", namely sharp curves, inadequate shoulders, and fire hazards adjacent to shoulders, such as "fire fuel and steep slopes".[30] The report also recommended a moratorium on new home construction in fire-prone areas.[27] 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.[27]

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.[26][31]

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.[26]

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.[32] 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.[33]

However, the special fire prevention fee was unpopular with Republican lawmakers, landowners, and taxpayer groups. After collecting and spending $470 million, a measure to suspend and repeal the fee was approved by the California State Legislature in July 2017.[33] Assemblyman Devon Mathis claimed, "not one cent has gone to putting more boots on the ground."[33] Initially, much of the revenue funded existing fire programs; the process of building out new prevention programs was slow. However, the revenue did fund projects, such as secondary evacuation routes and fuel reduction zones.[33][34]

In August 2018, three months before the fire, fire safe councils in the Paradise region were awarded $5 million in grants from this program for fuel reduction and education projects.[35]

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 2017 North Bay fires.[36] A policy it adopted subsequent to the North Bay fires precluded shutting off lines carrying more than 115 kV due to the number of customers who would be adversely affected by such a shutdown.[36]

Infrastructure oversight inspectionEdit

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is responsible for inspecting 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.[37] A CPUC inspection of the section of electrical infrastructure at the origin of the Camp Fire was omitted for six years. Many of the towers are original to the Upper North Fork Feather River Project, which was constructed in the early 1900s.[37] This section is the 115 kV Caribou-Palermo line. A 2009 inspection noted three-bolt connectors, used to join two conductors, were in need of replacement, which PG&E said had been done by 2016.[38] In a 2011 audit, the CPUC found several thousand deficiencies, some of which PG&E disputed;[37] it was not clear if the number of deficiencies on the Caribou-Palermo line was unusually high. A 2012 wind storm brought down five towers.[37]

In May 2018, the CPUC gave PG&E permission to replace the aging line, though the design did not include line hardening through high fire hazard areas.[39]

Wildfire conditions and behaviorEdit

Conditions immediately leading up to and during the fire combined to create a highly combustible fuel load:[16]

  • Heavy grass cover due to a wet spring
  • An unusually dry fall
  • Decreased Humidity due to several recent wind events (23% dropping to 10%)
  • Unusually dry fuel (5% 1,000-hr. moisture level)
  • Hot, dry, sustained and gusting high winds (25-35 mph), including a Red Flag Warning on the day of the fire, similar to the Diablo wind or the Santa Ana winds of the California Coast Ranges.

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 November 1.

There were regional previous burn patterns and topography that contributed. In Paradise, across from Rattlesnake Creek, the fuel had never burned in recorded history. In addition, steep canyons in the area made access difficult.[16]

Combined, the conditions formed a recipe for a firestorm, 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." It was compared to the July 27, 1943, Royal Air Force bombing that caused a firestorm that consumed Hamburg, Germany, and killed an estimated 42,600 people, wounding 37,000 more."[16][17][15][14]

TimelineEdit

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) notified customers for two days before November 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.

Early November 8 the "Jarbo winds"[40] formed; a hot katabatic wind that has been heated by compression as the elevation drops. On Thursday, November 8, 2018 around 6:15 a.m., there was a problem on a PG&E power transmission line above Poe Dam near Pulga, California in Butte County.[4]

A fire under power transmission lines near Poe Dam was reported to Cal Fire by a PG&E Rock Creek Powerhouse worker at 6:33 a.m. PST. The fire was first reported to the Rock Creek Powerhouse by a PG&E field crew. 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 minutes, a few other people, most of them other PG&E workers, called in about the fire.[41][38]

An electrical machinist took two photos of the fire at 6:44 a.m., when it had grown to 10 acres (4.0 ha),[40] and four minutes later two other employees sent in 21 photos and three videos.[38] That afternoon airborne observers noted that an insulator had separated from the tower.[38] PG&E later reported that power lines were down.[42]

Arriving ten minutes later, Captain Matt McKenzie, the first unit on scene, observed rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior.[40] 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]." Access to the fire was by a narrow mountain road, which the fire engines were too large to navigate. Air resources had to wait until 30 minutes after sunrise, i.e., 7:14 a.m., but due to winds, aircraft were not on the fire until the afternoon.

The community of Concow did not receive an evacuation warning before the fire arrived less than twenty minutes later around 7 a.m. A call at 7:07 a.m. from someone directly observing the fire reported it in Concow with high winds on it, they said it was "rippin'". Several additional calls from Concow followed soon thereafter.[43] At 7:23 a.m. the Butte County Sheriff's Office began evacuating Pulga.[44][45][46]

Calls from Concow and Paradise continued for an hour at nearly one call per minute to report a fire — all were told there was no danger, that the fire was north of Concow off Highway 70, that there was no evacuation, and that authorities would contact residents if there were danger.[43]

By 8 a.m. the fire entered the town of Paradise. Several minutes later, "the Butte County Fire Department notified Paradise dispatchers of their orders to evacuate the entire town" which would be in a sequence of zones beginning with the east side of town.[47] At some point that day, emergency shelters were established.[48][49] Wind speeds approached 50 miles per hour (22 m/s), allowing the fire to grow rapidly.[50] 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.[51] According to Chief 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."[52]

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.[53] This point of failure in a fast-moving emergency allowed no room for error. Thousands of calls to 9-1-1 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[53] 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.[53]

The day after the fire started, PG&E employees noted the Big Bend's line equipment on the ground.[38]

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,[54] but that has since been updated to 18,793.

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.[55]

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 fire line. 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).[56]
  • 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.[57][58][59]
  • November 14 PG&E employees noted a broken C hook and a disconnected insulation anchor on a nearby tower.[38]
  • November 15, the fire was 140,000 acres and 40 percent contained.[58]
  • 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 November 21-on described as minimal.[60][61]
  • November 22, 90 percent containment.[62][63][64][65]

On November 25, 2018, Cal Fire announced that the fire had reached 100 percent containment.[23]

Discovery of fatalitiesEdit

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.

  • November 10, Fourteen bodies were discovered, bringing casualties to 23.
  • November 11, casualties increased to 29 after another six bodies discovered.[66]
  • November 13, casualties increased to 48, making it the single-deadliest wildfire in California history, surpassing the 1933 Griffith Park Fire, which killed 29 people.[57][67]
  • November 14, casualties increased from 48 to 56.[68]
  • November 16, casualties increased from 63 to 71.[69]
  • November 17, An additional five deaths brought the total to 76. President Donald Trump, Governor Jerry Brown, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Brock Long toured the Paradise area, and they held a short conference in the afternoon.[70]
  • November 18, casualties raised to 77.[71]
  • November 19, casualties raised to 79.[72]
  • November 20, casualties raised to 81.[73]
  • November 21, casualties raised to 83.[74]

Heavy rainfall started on Wednesday, November 21, which helped contain the fire.[24] Fire crews pulled back and let the rain put out the remaining fires while teams searched for victims.[25]

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

Butte County Sheriff's Department initially reported a partial death count for each community (total 67): 50 in Paradise, 7 in Concow, 9 in Magalia, and 1 in Chico.[75][76]

A community interfaith memorial was held on February 8, 2019, at the Paradise Performing Arts Center. The event was their grand re-opening since the Camp Fire[77] Over a dozen faith traditions offered a free celebration of life for the lives lost in the Camp Fire. The event was broadcast by Action News Now, NBC[78] attended by 800+ Butte County community members. The event, which promoted healing, unity, and a time for the community to reconnect was sponsored by the Chico Area Interfaith Council.[79] Families received remembrance gifts, and there was prayer, two choirs, piano, and a tribute to each individual who lost their life. The memorial was hosted by Linda Watkins-Bennett[80] and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Red Grammer performed his song called, "We're Made of Love", which was written for the memorial.[81]

In two separate incidents, a pair of fire captains, a firefighter, and a pair of prison inmate firefighters were burned.[82] 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.[83]

Identification of the deceased was hampered by the fragmentary condition of many bodies. Ten of 18 dentists in Paradise lost their offices and patient records in the fire. Two of the dead were identified from the serial numbers on artificial joints, 15 from dental records, five from fingerprints and 50 from DNA. Funerals and benefits were delayed by the identification difficulties.[84]

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

Missing, Injured, Fatalities, and Evacuated
Occupation Missing Injured Fatalities Evacuated
Civilian 1[85] 12[7] 85 52,000[86]
Firefighter 0 5[7] 0 N/A
Total 1 17 85 52,000

The community of Concow and the town of Paradise were destroyed within the first six hours of the fire,[87][88] losing an estimated 95 percent of their buildings. The town of Magalia also suffered substantial damage, and the community of Pulga, California suffered some. Nearly 19,000 buildings were destroyed, most of them homes, along with five public schools in Paradise, a rest home, churches, part of Feather River 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.[88][58][89][90] 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.[91][92]

Summary of structural damage reported by Cal Fire:

Estimates of Damaged and Destroyed Structures
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[93] and Central Valley,[94] prompting the closure of public schools in five Bay Area counties and dozens of districts in the Sacramento metropolitan area on November 16.[95][96] Smoke was reportedly visible as far away as New York City after smoke plumes traveled a distance of over 3,000 miles.[97] 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."[98]

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.[99]

The Butte County Health Officer, Andy Miller, declared the burned region uninhabitable. A strong warning was issued against rehabitation, noting, "[you] will be exposed to hazardous materials."[100] In the weeks following the fire, Paradise City Council and Butte County Supervisors passed emergency ordinances to alleviate the delay in FEMA temporary housing by allowing residents to return to their land and live in temporary residences until the cleanup was completed and they could rebuild. However, with additional information it was clear there was a significant risk to public health and in early February 2019, FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer David Samaniego forced policymakers to retract the accommodation and remove residents from the burn area, those policymakers released an announcement, "The Town of Paradise and Butte County were informed that emergency ordinances intended to provide a process for citizens to return to their properties prior to removal of the debris may impact federal funding. The disaster assistance is predicated on the need to remedy health and safety hazards that pose an immediate risk to citizens prior to living in recreational vehicles on their properties with structures burned during the Camp Fire."[101][102] Emotions were sumed by resident Ben Walker while addressing the Paradise City Council: "I'm asking you not to throw the people of this town into the cold in the middle of winter. If the option is to choose federal money to rebuild the town, or the people to rebuild the town—choose the people".[102][103]

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.[104][51]

 
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.[105] Some residents who were unable to evacuate survived by sheltering in place at the American gas station and the Nearly New antique store across the street. Others gathered in the nearby parking lot shared by a KMart and a Save Mart. The survival of some of those who sheltered in place has raised the question of whether in some scenarios last-minute mass evacuations provide the best outcomes, with some pointing to Australia's policy discouraging them, instituted following the 1983 Ash Wednesday brushfires in which many of the 75 dead were killed while trying to evacuate.[106]

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.[107]

In May 2019, NPR reported that more than 1,000 families who were displaced by the fire are still looking for housing six months later. Rural northern California has been experiencing a severe housing shortage and growing homelessness crisis, in part due to the fire.[108]

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 $25 million). 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.[109] 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.[110]

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.[111][112]

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.[113]

PG&E bankruptcyEdit

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, began the process of filing for bankruptcy with a 15-day notice of intention to file for bankruptcy protection.[2] Because fire survivors are unsecured creditors with the same priority as bondholders, they will only be paid in proportion to their claim size if anything is left after secured and priority claims are paid; it nearly ensures that they will not get paid in full.[114] On January 29, 2019 PG&E Corporation, the parent corporation of PG&E, filed for bankruptcy protection.[115]

On August 16, 2019, liability for the Tubbs Fire was potentially added when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali ruled that a fast-track state jury trial could proceed to resolve who is at fault for the Tubbs Fire. Cal Fire determined that customer equipment was at fault, but lawyers representing wildfire victims claim that PG&E equipment was at fault.[116][117][118]

U.S. District Judge James Donato will handle the estimation process for the claims of wildfire victims, including personal injury and wrongful death. Bankruptcy judge Montali said that the costs to government agencies will not be subject to the estimation process because these costs can be calculated "down to the penny."[119]

PG&E settled for $1 billion with state and local governments in June, 2019,[120][121] and settled for $11 billion with insurance carriers and hedge funds in September, 2019.[122][123] Wildfire victims are the only major group of claimants that have not yet reached a settlement with PG&E. Representatives for wildfire victims say PG&E owes $54 billion or more, and PG&E is offering $8.4 billion for fire damages, Cal Fire, and FEMA.[124]

On October 9, 2019, Judge Montali allowed the proposed reorganization plan of the senior bondholders to be considered along with PG&E's proposed plan. The proposal of the senior bondholders has the support of the committee of wildfire victims, who said their claims may be worth $13.5 billion.[125][126][127] The proposal of the senior bondholders would give them control of the company with PG&E shareholders losing out, and PG&E called the proposal an "unjustified windfall."[125][128]

InvestigationEdit

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and state utility regulators investigated 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.[129][130] PG&E was convicted of a felony due to a gas pipeline explosion in 2010 and is on probation, which means penalties for subsequent crimes are enhanced.[131][132] 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.[133]

Investigators believe that the failure of a badly maintained steel hook holding up a high voltage line was a key cause of the fire.[134] 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."[36]

A distribution line in Concow malfunctioned a half hour later, which was considered as a possible second ignition source.[133] On November 11 PG&E employees saw bullets and bullet holes on pole equipment from the Big Bend distribution line affected by that outage, and downed wires, damaged poles and fallen trees about two thirds of a mile away.[38]

Following the fire, multiple fire victims sued PG&E and its parent company in San Francisco County Superior Court before a definite cause had been determined, accusing PG&E of failure to properly maintain its infrastructure and equipment.[135] In mid-May 2019, California state investigators announced that PG&E was responsible for the fire.[136] The Cal Fire report was sent to the Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.[137]

ResponseEdit

First respondersEdit

While successful in the heroic feat of evacuating nearly the entire town of Paradise, first responders were limited by an insufficient number of cell phone repeaters, which resulted in communication difficulties and reduced Internet speed: "Paradise quickly lost its equipment, the California Public Utilities Commission confirmed."[138] The wildfire alert system was similarly hampered by damaged cell towers; 17 towers burned the first day.[139] Many residents didn't sign up for the warnings, some neighborhoods for some reason did not receive any warnings, and the failure rate of the warnings that did get sent ranged from 25 to 94 percent.[139]

Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T CEO, committed to fixing this problem, as AT&T added mobile repeaters to improve coverage.[140] Two weeks into the fire, 66 cell repeaters were still damaged or out of service, and the remaining cell infrastructure was overloaded.[53]

Only two dispatchers were on duty to field thousands of calls to 911.[139]

Initial widespread confusion about reporting missing people 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.[141][142]

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.[143]

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.[144][145]

By the second day of the fire, only half the fire resources had assembled.[146] 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.[147]

At the height of deployment, there were applied resources of 5,596 firefighters (200 of these were prisoners[148]), 622 engines, 75 water tenders, 101 fire crews, 103 bulldozers, 24 helicopters carrying 600 gal buckets, and 12 fixed-wing aircraft on the fireline.[55]

An early morning fixed-wing air support offer (pair of 810 gal Air Tractor AT-802) on the first day of the fire was declined.[149][150] 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."[149] 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.[149] 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[151] 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.[152][153][154]

 
California National Guard soldiers from the 49th Brigade distributing supplies to search teams during the Camp Fire.

The California National Guard activated 700 soldiers to assist,[155] including 100 military police officers from the 49th Brigade to provide security and search for remains with the assistance of 22 cadaver dogs.[156][157] The 2632nd Transportation company provided haul trucks.[158] The 140th Regiment provided air support. The 224th Sustainment Brigade constructed Alaska tents for temporary facilities.[159]

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.[160] The camp was in addition to motel room vouchers from FEMA and ten shelters established by the Red Cross and churches to house evacuees.[161] Over a hundred people had become ill with norovirus at the shelters due to poor hygiene in overcrowded centers—prompting many to camp outdoors.[162] 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.'[163] The camp population swelled to over a thousand people.[164] Butte County has a persistent homeless population of 7,500 people; many reside in Chico,[165] and some campers were revealed as resident homeless people who did not live in the fire zone.[166] 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.[160]

Mental health supportEdit

Recovery efforts included supporting the mental health of Camp Fire victims, particularly the youth.[167][168] Some former residents reported survivor guilt, troubling dreams, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress.[169][170] To ease the stress on fire victims, several people brought therapy dogs from the Butte Humane Society's Animal Assisted Wellness program.[171] Lise Van Susteren summarized the burden these children bear in experiencing climate change, "These kids are at the tip of the spear."[168][172]

Environmental cleanupEdit

The Camp Fire cleanup is currently the largest hazardous material cleanup in state history.[173] Due to the time required 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 possibly exposed them to hazardous materials.[174] 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.[175] Another concern was benzene contamination from burning plastic pipes.[176] Paradise tested sections of their water supply and initially "22 out of 24 water systems were tested" and announced as passed.[175] Later, the Paradise Irrigation District issued a notice that the water is contaminated and cannot be used.[177] 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."[175] While heavy metals and dioxins were concerns, a more pressing public health issue was an intestinal parasite, cryptosporidium, to which bare soil provided greater access to water systems.[175]

FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) collaborated on developing a site to process fire zone demolition and remediation debris.[178][179] Of fifty potential sites within thirty 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 ultimately was dismissed due to concerns of toxicity.[180] After consideration, all fifty sites were rejected and instead, hazardous waste, such as electronics, car batteries, and asbestos were hauled several hours by trucks directly from the individual cleanup sites to landfills in California and Nevada.

The government procurement for cleanup was broken into several contract packages and put out to public bid to remove, process, and dispose of 5 million tons of materials at a cost of $3 billion:[181]

  • ECC Constructors LLC, SF Bay Area, CA: Remove debris from half of Paradise, CA ($359 million).[182]
  • SPSG Partners, a joint venture of Pacific States Environmental Contractors (in partnership with De Silva Gates Construction, Dublin, CA), Goodfellow Brothers Construction, and Sukut Construction, Santa Ana, CA: Remove debris from half of Paradise, CA ($378 million).[182]
  • CERES Environmental Services (aka Environmental & Demolition Services Group), Sarasota, FL: Remove debris from areas outside the town of Paradise ($263 million).[182]
  • Tetra Tech, Pasadena, CA: Test soils for contamination ($250 million). Note that parent company Tetra Tech EC faked soil tests in Bayview–Hunters Point, San Francisco; two company supervisors were sentenced to prison.[182]
  • Offhaul contracts went to several local sites, which avoided the need for rail offhaul to out of state sites:[183]
    • Waste Management; Anderson, CA: Contaminated demolition, such as ash, debris, and soil.[183]
    • Recology; Wheatland, CA: Contaminated demolition, such as ash, debris, and soil.[183]
    • Odin Metal; Oroville, CA: Metals, such as burned vehicles and equipment.[183]
    • Granite's Pacific Heights Recycling; Oroville, CA: Concretes, such as house foundations and driveways.[183]
    • Franklin Recycling; Paradise, CA: Concretes, such as house foundations and driveways.[183]
    • Concrete will be shipped out of the county by truck as needed.[183]

The Paradise Fire Safe Council is looking at putting out bids for salvage logging the 443,000 dead trees, which would otherwise be the responsibility of homeowners at a combined cost of $750 million. There are challenges—such as logging must be within a few months or the trees will begin to rot—these challenges are being tested through a pilot program.[184]

Wildland and climateEdit

The Los Angeles Times reported the Camp Fire burned across an area burned to bare dirt by a hot burning wildfire ten years earlier, then salvage-logged; fire ecologist Chad Hanson suggested brush piles and young trees left over after the salvage logging provided fast-burning fuels aiding the fire's rapid spread.[185] The Camp Fire was initially-fueled by dry grass amid sparse pine and oak woodlands.[186] This drove most of the post-event discussion away from timber management as a future-fire prevention-solution.[187]

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 significant precipitation, part of a statewide drought related to climate change.[188][185][21][22]

The Sacramento Bee looked at if residential-development is 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.[189] That discussion pointed to other Sierra Foothill communities similar to Paradise. Cal Fire states "Those kinds of geographic features are present in many foothill towns."[189] Those features include proximity and alignment to river canyons channeling wind-fed flames over foothill communities. Visiting Professor Moritz (UC Santa Barbara) notes "if we were to go back and do the wind mapping, we would find, at some intervals, these areas are prone to these north and northeasterly [strong hot autumn wind] events."[186]

PoliticalEdit

The following "political" statements came at a time when the Democratic Party and California in particular were at odds with Republican President Donald Trump.

In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1463, which aimed to reduce the risk of power lines sparking fires in brush-covered and wooded areas, saying in his veto letter that the bill duplicated existing efforts. SB 1463 had been unanimously approved by the state Legislature.[citation needed]

The CPUC voted December 15, 2018, to improve rules governing when utilities should disable power lines to reduce the risk of fires.[36]

Policymakers are looking at what options are available to harden the California energy distribution infrastructure against wildfires. California is reliant on a system of centralized 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.[190] Students of such anticipate 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).[191] PG&E diverted half the funds intended for moving electrical underground.[192] Hanging wires on poles, while hazardous, is less expensive and has been used to reduce infrastructure costs since the early 20th century. Utilities, such as gas and fiber-optic, are usually buried; however, this is not without difficulties like utility strikes[193] and maintenance access issues.[194] Of 175,000 miles of Californian electrical infrastructure, 80,000 miles is fireprone;[190] of all hazard types, PG&E has 81,000 miles of overhead electrical 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. A suggestion to reduce cost is to harden the sections of high energy lines through high wind areas upwind of residential communities in the wildland–urban interface, in particular, around river canyons pointing to those residential areas.

On November 10, President Trump incorrectly[195][196][197][198] 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.[187] In a tweet, he threatened to end federal assistance unless "gross mismanagement of the forests" is remedied.[199]

Trump elaborated on his claims in an interview with Chris Wallace and during his trip to Paradise, stating "you got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest — very important" and "[Finland] spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don't have any problem."[200] Finland's president Sauli Niinistö was baffled by Trump's assertions and denied they talked about raking, leading to an Internet phenomenon of Finnish people sharing photos of themselves raking forests.[201]

Fire experts refuted Trump's claims, noting Californians are experiencing unusually dry conditions and abnormally high fire danger.[202][197] 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 federal agencies such as the United States Forest Service, which has reduced spending on forestry in recent years.[203][195]

RecoveryEdit

 
Paradise 7th Day Adventist church sign

The first two building permits were reissued for Paradise after almost five months on March 28, 2019. Local public policymakers want to promote rebuilding with higher standards for fire-resistant construction, upgraded infrastructure, and using the recommended 2009 redesigns for enhanced fire safety, which included expanded road capacity to increase evacuation capacity and to provide better access for emergency equipment.[204] The first Certificate of Occupancy was awarded in July 2019.[205]

 
Burnt 7th Day Adventist church, Paradise

The Paradise 7th Day Adventist church was completely destroyed, as was part of its adjacent academy. Estimates were that at least 600 homes of Adventist Health employees in Paradise had been destroyed. When power was restored to the site, the church began providing free potable water to neighbors.[206] Its leaders said, "Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help." Most other places of worship were also destroyed, including Our Savior Lutheran Church, Ridge Presbyterian Church, Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Craig Memorial Congregational Church, Paradise Foursquare, New Life Apostolic Church, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God, and Community Church of the Brethren. The lead pastor of Hope Christian Church, Stan Freitas, wrote, "Building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing." "The church is still alive." A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) meetinghouse and a Center for Spiritual Living were also destroyed.[207]

See alsoEdit

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Politifact California; Examining Jerry Brown's veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it https://www.politifact.com/california/article/2018/nov/16/examining-jerry-browns-veto-2016-wildfire-legislat/

External linksEdit

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