San Diego Gas and Electric wants to raise the rates their customers pay in order to cover the costs the utility incurred after the failure of their power lines caused the Witch Creek, Guejito, and Rice Canyon fires in 2007. The fires destroyed more than 1,300 homes in southern California, killed two people, and caused massive evacuations. The Witch Creek Fire which started near Santa Ysabel burned 197,990 acres.
SDG&E still owes $421 million resulting from legal settlements that were not covered by their insurance. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that on Friday the company asked for permission to have their customers pay 90 percent, or $379 million, of the remaining costs from the fires. The stockholders would pay $42 million.
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a fierce critic of SDG&E who represents East County communities, asked the utility to shut off electricity only as a last resort.
“I’m deeply concerned about any shutoffs because they pose risks to property and life in an emergency, especially in areas where firefighters need access to well water,” Jacob said. “I urge the utility to cut power only as a last resort and only if there’s an actual system failure that could ignite a wildfire.”
Fires in U.S. and Australia determined to be caused by power lines
Two fires, in Western Australia and California, have recently been determined to be caused by electrical power lines.
The Pfeiffer Fire at Big Sur, California started on December 16, 2013 and burned 34 homes and 917 acres in the coastal community 23 miles south of Monterey. The U.S. Forest Service reported on Wednesday:
The cause of the fire was determined to be high resistance heating of the Pfeiffer Ridge Mutual Water Company electrical control wires immediately adjacent to a steel water pipe line. The high resistance heating of the electrical control wires created a competent ignition source for this fire. The first fuel ignited was accumulated dried leaves and redwood needles.
A rotted power pole infested with termites has been blamed for the Parkerville bushfire which destroyed more than 40 homes this year. But EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said the organisation would not take action against Western Power or the landowner.
The EnergySafety report into the cause of the fire on January 12 was released on Thursday and found the bushfire originated from a private pole at 180 Granite Road, Parkerville.
“There was no evidence to suggest the work performed by Western Power to replace the surface aerial seven months before the incident, or the work to replace the adjacent pole two day before the bushfires, causes the PA pole to fail,” Mr Bowron said.
“Based on the available evidence and legal advice, EnergySafety will not be taking any legal action against any party. The clear finding of the report is that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites.
Hearing in Prescott on Granite Mountain Hotshots’ retroactive retirement benefits
Now nearly a year and a half after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the matter of retroactive retirement benefits continues to play out at Prescott City Hall.
With its earlier decision granting retirement benefits to the family of fallen Hotshot Andrew Ashcraft still under appeal, the local fire retirement board will take on two new retirement cases today.
During a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing at Prescott City Hall, the Prescott Board of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Board will turn to the retirement claims by the families of Sean Misner and William Warneke, and whether the scope of the actual hearings on the claims should be limited…
Tree ring researcher at the University of Arizona honored
Thomas W. Swetnam, Regents’ Professor of dendrochronology and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.
As part of the Section on Geology and Geography, Swetnam was elected as an AAAS Fellow for his investigations of tree rings as a record of past changes in climate, allowing scientists to predict future forest-fire frequencies in the Southwest.
Mr. Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon. The conclusions from Swetnam’s studies of these so-called megafires and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS’ “NewsHour” and CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Wildfire Today reader Bjørn Ivar Haugdal reports that the 3,000-acre fire in Norway we told you about earlier did not destroy as many structures as previously thought, and the number now stands at 55.
A new fire in Norway near Frøya has burned about 2,000 acres. Lighter winds have made it possible for civilian (Eurocopter AS350) and military (Bell 412SP) helicopters to assist firefighters. Water sources in lakes have to be opened with axes and chain saws, and water sprayed on vegetation quickly freezes in the -2C (28F) weather. There are reports that the fire started when children who were ice skating were playing with a lighter in the dry grass.
An F-16 fighter has been used as an aerial observation platform, streaming live video down to big screens at a command center on the ground. In a recording of the infrared video, at the 40-second mark you can see firefighters dragging hoses away from the head of the fire while they are being showered with hot embers, which show up as white in the video.
Below is a rough Google translation of a description of how military assets assisted firefighters:
Wednesday afternoon, two fire engines with eight soldiers from fire, rescue and room service (BRP) at Orland Main Air Base sent to the fire-ravaged Freya to participate in fire fighting. They were joined by a separate fire pump and a sekshjuling (ATV).
Defence Logistics Organisation sent a tank of fuel which ensures that the helicopters can easily access the fuel to get the most effective fighters. Four Bell 412 helicopters from Bardufoss and Rygge was sent to the fire area to assist in extinguishing efforts.
An air coordination element of defense contributes to coordinate air traffic in the area so the helicopter quenching capacity was utilized in the best possible way.
Coast guard vessels KV Bergen and KV Njord took part in extinguishing the work after the engagement in Flatanger was completed.
National Guard participates with 30 soldiers from the HV-12. In addition to Hitra and HV area are several nearby HV areas alerted and are ready to provide support if the need arises.
An F-16 fighters from Orland Main Air Station filmed fire and sent this live on big screens at the police control so the police and fire department received an overview of how the fire progressed.
A video clip taken from fighter plane Wednesday night shows how firefighters use fire pumps out on the ice in Langvatnet by Måsheia and smoke, sparks and burning objects flying over them.
The video below was shot from a drone over the earlier fire at Laerdalsoyri Village.
(Updated at 12:33 p.m. MST, January 28, 2014)
Wildfire Today reader Bjørn Ivar has given us some updated information, saying about 90 structures have burned. Strong winds are still making it impossible to use helicopters, but Civil Defense personnel are using chain saws to cut holes in the ice on lakes so that the freshwater sources can be used for dip sites for the helicopters with water buckets. Some degree of containment has been reached, Mr. Ivar said, and the fires are still within the peninsula.
(Originally published at 9:54 a.m. MST, January 28, 2014)
A rare January brush fire has burned scores of structures in the Norway villages of Hasvag and Smavaeret. Police believe the fire started Monday when strong winds blew two powerlines together.
The reports on the number of homes and other structures that have burned vary greatly. There could be as many as 95 that are damaged or destroyed.
One resident dead and 49 homes destroyed in Australian bushfire
One person collapsed and died on the roof of his house while spraying water to defend his home from a fire in the Perth hills of Western Australia on Sunday. The 62-year old man’s house was not damaged while the 650-hectare (1,606 acres) fire burned 49 others in the Shire of Mundaring. One resident tried to get back to their house on Monday afternoon and suffered burns to the hands and feet.
At least three homes burned Sunday in a large grass fire near the Kansas-Missouri border. The 600-acre fire was pushed by very strong winds which caused problems for the firefighters that responded from both Kansas and Missouri. Cherokee County officials said the fire may have been caused by a power line that failed due to the wind.
Red Flag Warnings, January 13
Areas in southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are under Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings today.
UPDATE at 6:25 p.m. PST, January 13, 2014. The Red Flag Warning areas in California have grown:
North Carolina resident Col. Charles D. Davis III will command the national military mission charged with combating wildland fires using C-130 aircraft outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.
“MAFFS is a team effort,” said Davis, who also commands the Operations Group at the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. “We protect lives and property from forest fires, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
As commander of the Air Expeditionary Group Wildland Fire Fighting, Davis will lead three Air National Guard and one U.S. Air Force Reserve Command units that fly military C-130 aircraft and use them as aerial tankers. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, the Group controls MAFFS operations nationwide at the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.
A U.S. Air Force master navigator with more than 5,300 hours of military flying time, Davis, of Weddington, N.C., has more than 1,000 hours of combat time earned supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In civilian life, he is an Airbus A330 Flight Crew Training Instructor at U.S. Airways.
Arizona legislators consider bills related to hotshots’ deaths
State legislators in Arizona are considering bills that are related to wildfire management and the deaths of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona on June 30, 2013.
A bill is being considered that would allow local governments to ban the sale of certain fireworks.
Another bill seeks to clarify what autopsy documents and photos are available to the public. County authorities refused to release autopsy reports for the Yarnell Hill firefighters.
Some legislators want the state to buy the state trust land where the hotshots died so it can be preserved as a memorial.
Legislators are considering helping the city of Prescott with its costs related to the hotshots’ deaths, but they may wait until the 100+ claims and/or lawsuits are settled before proposing anything specific.
They may propose legislation that would at least provide life insurance for public safety workers.
The legislation that enabled the transfer of seven C-130H aircraft from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to serve as air tankers required that the wing boxes be replaced and other maintenance be performed.
Two fires in northern New Mexico are putting smoke into the air and making residents nervous.
The Tres Lagunas (Three Lagoons) Fire, 11 miles east of Santa Fe, was caused by a downed power line May 30 and has burned either 6,249 or 7,476 acres (both acreages appear on InciWeb). It is zero percent contained. Management of the fire was turned over to a Type 2 New Mexico Incident Management Team with John Pierson as Incident Commander. An Incident Command Post has been established at the Pecos National Historical Park nine miles south of the fire.
The Thompson Ridge Fire has burned about 1,700 acres 15 miles west of Los Alamos, north of Highway 4 and Jemez Springs, and is listed at 25 percent containment. Sunday at 3 p.m. there will be a public meeting at the Sierra de Los Pinos Fire Station 52.