Another $250 million for PacifiCorp’s 2020 firestorm liability

PacifiCorp has settled with 10 timber companies in Oregon for $250 million after the utility company was found liable for starting many of the 2020 Labor Day fires.

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that for the second time this month, the utility provider will pay out hundreds of millions to end a lawsuit over its negligence in the wind-driven wildfires that started over Labor Day weekend in 2020 in western Oregon.

The settlement will resolve a lawsuit the timber companies brought against the utility for the Archie Creek Complex in west-central Oregon.

2020 Archie Creek Fire
Archie Creek Fire map, 2:35 p.m. PDT Sept. 22, 2020.

On December 5, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned company paid $299 million to settle another lawsuit brought by Oregon residents who lost their homes and property in the same fire, bringing PacifiCorp’s payouts this month to more than a half billion dollars.

[UPDATE 12/21/2023: How much Pacific Power rates are increasing.]

This lawsuit alleged that PacifiCorp’s employees ignored warnings from the National Weather Service and others on Labor Day weekend and decided to not power down its electrical equipment — or fall hazard trees and clear vegetation around powerlines.

“The 2020 wildfires were undeniably tragic,” the company said in a statement, “and PacifiCorp is pleased to resolve this matter on behalf of our impacted customers and communities.”

“I am proud to have recovered fair and full damages for Oregon’s timber industry,” said attorney Mikal Watts. He said that after the Archie Creek Fire had started, a lineman mistakenly re-energized a line after a tree had fallen into it, which ignited another separate fire. He said the timber companies lost of thousands of acres of timberlands in the fires. Watts explained that he hopes to work with PacifiCorp, along with Oregon lawmakers and utility regulators, to create a statewide risk pool for utilities, which would allow people to receive payouts without the need to file lawsuits after a fire. California created a  similar fund in 2019 after the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas & Electric caused by its wildfire payouts. A risk pool would be funded up front by utility customers and utilities themselves.

“The Public Utilities Commission ought to work together with this utility to try to recoup these costs to make it go away,” said Watts.

2020 fires aftermath

According to a KATU-TV report, PacifiCorp said this settlement is in addition to others with individuals and businesses that lost homes and other property, plus hundreds of insurance claims that PacifiCorp settled in which homeowners and businesses received insurance payments for damages.

Hackberry Fire burning near Prescott

Posted on Categories WildfireTags ,

Fire crews are fighting the Hackberry Fire, burning seven miles west of Prescott, Arizona since Monday morning, according to the Arizona Emergency Information Network.

The fire had burned 30 acres as of Monday afternoon, Prescott NF firefighters said.

Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023
Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023


  • Fire crews report there are no values at risk or threatened.
  • The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.

How many acres has it burned?
The Hackberry Fire has burned 30 acres and is zero percent contained.  Infrared imaging has not yet been done to get an accurate estimate of acres burned. Recreationists should avoid camping, biking, and hiking near the fires and use caution while driving the roads as firefighters will be traveling to and from the fire.

Are there any evacuations?
There are no evacuations yet announced, nor any communities warned to prepare for evacuation.

What roads or highways have been closed?
Authorities have not announced any road closures.

Wildfire Go-Kit:
Residents in wildfire-prone areas are urged to have an emergency supplies kit to bring with them if they are evacuated from their homes. An emergency supply kit, a “go bag,” should be put together long before a wildfire or other disaster occurs. Make sure to keep it easily accessible so you can take it with you when you have to evacuate.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that residents store emergency supplies in a plastic tub, small suitcase, trash can, backpack, or other container. Residents should make sure they have the necessities, such as three gallons of water per person and a three-day supply of ready-to-eat food, the NFPA said. A first aid kit, prescription medications, contact lenses, and non-prescription drugs should also be taken into account.

Copies of important family documents, including insurance policies, identification, bank account records, and emergency contact numbers should also be put into a waterproof portable container in your kit.

The NFPA lists other items that would help in a disaster, including:

  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio to receive up-to-date information
  • Dust mask or cotton T-shirt to filter air
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Complete change of clothing including long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and sturdy shoes stored in a waterproof container
  • Signal flare

The entire NFPA checklist of supplies can be found here.

near a disaster

Grassfires destroy far more homes than forest fires

A devastating series of wildfires that swept over forests in Idaho, Montana, and Washington more than a century ago — the Big Burn of 1910 — would forever change the nation’s perception of fire in forests. The lessons learned from that tragedy, however, may have been a bit misguided, according to new research.

Firefighters had been putting out fires for months in 1910 throughout the Western states. They’d finally begun to get ahead during the week of August 19, even beginning to dismiss some firefighters, according to the Forest History Society.

But then all hell broke loose. Hurricane-force winds roared across the states, turning numerous smoldering embers into firestorms.

“A forester wrote of flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air, fanned by a tornadic wind so violent that the flames flattened out ahead, swooping to earth in great darting curves, truly a veritable red demon from hell,” according to a summary document by the USFS.

1910 fires

What became known as the “Big Blowup of 1910” is largely remembered for killing 86 people (78 of whom were firefighters), burning 3 million acres, and completely destroying eight towns.

Wallace, Idaho -- the aftermath
Wallace, Idaho — the aftermath

The fire burned its way into the American conscious, one of the first widely reported wildfire tragedies in the nation’s budding national news system.

Three future Forest Service chiefs were directly involved in the Big Blowup, including W.B.Greeley, Henry Graves, and Ferdinand Silcox, and their experience would go on to shape decades of policy around aggressive fire suppression in U.S. forests. Not only has research shown aggressive suppression to be an ill-advised effort, but the heightened focus on fires in the nation’s forests may have also been misguided.

New research found rising wildfire risk for houses across the United States, with the number of homes within wildfire perimeters doubling since the 1990s, caused by both housing growth and more burned areas. Researchers also got a surprising finding from their study: grassland and shrubland fires destroyed far more houses than those lost to forest fires.

“This pattern was most pronounced in the Western U.S., which encompassed 69 percent of all the buildings destroyed by wildfires,” the researchers wrote. “There, 79.5 percent of all destroyed buildings were lost in grassland and shrubland fires. In the East, by contrast, 82.1 percent of destroyed buildings were lost in forest fires. In the West, even though forests had a high destruction rate (21.3 percent), only 2,367 buildings were destroyed by forest fires compared with 9,402 in grassland and shrubland fires.”

The researchers noted multiple potential reasons for the heightened number of homes destroyed by grassland and shrubland wildfires compared with forest wildfires, including the sheer acreage of grasslands and shrublands throughout the country. From 1990 to 2020, grassland and shrubland accounted for 64 percent of the total area burned by wildfires at ~91 million acres, while forests made up only 27 percent of burned areas at ~34 million acres.

Another reason is the difference in vegetation in the two environments. Wildfire management across grassland and shrublands requires frequent application of multiple types of risk-management strategies, including prescribed burning and fuel thinning, compared with forests — because of the quick recovery of fuel loads in grassland areas. The risk-management strategies, however, may not be advisable in all grasslands and shrublands, specifically those where fire-prone invasive species have replaced native vegetation.

In the West, 79.5 percent of all destroyed buildings were lost in grassland and shrubland fires.

Despite more homes being destroyed by grassland and shrubland wildfires, homes near forest wildfires reportedly have an above-average chance of being destroyed.

“Of the 151,725 buildings … that were exposed to wildfires from 2000 to 2013, 11.3 percent were destroyed,” researchers said. “However, buildings in evergreen and in mixed forests were almost twice as likely to be destroyed (20.1 and 22.9 percent, respectively). By contrast, the destruction rate for shrublands was similar to the average (12.7 percent), and rates for grasslands and deciduous forests were considerably lower (8.0 and 3.3 percent, respectively).”

Researchers believe this is the case partly because of forest wildfires’ higher intensity, but also couldn’t rule out the difference in the architecture of homes built in forests compared with homes built in grasslands and shrublands.

The study concluded by noting that stricter construction standards and land-use planning, specifically avoiding building in areas prone to fire, would help the Forest Service meet its goal of limiting wildfire risk for  newly developed housing.

Washington protects workers from wildfire smoke

New regulations will require employers in Washington State to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke. KING5 News reported that the new regulations will take effect next month, making Washington the third state to establish year-round smoke protections for people who work outdoors. California and Oregon were the first two states to enact regulations.

“Wildfire smoke events have continued to happen in Washington state over the last five-plus years, seeming to be very consistent throughout the state each summer,” said Ryan Allen, senior program manager for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Wildfire smoke can cause short and long-term health problems. “Our primary pollutant of impact is the PM2.5,” Allen said. “It can get into the small recesses of your lungs and start causing damage within the lung itself.”

Starting in January the department will be enforcing year-round workplace protections for those who work outdoors in Washington. The primary petitioner in this case was the United Farm Workers Union; the initiative was advocated primarily by the community of agricultural workers. Emergency rules were enacted in several states during smoky conditions, but now the rule in Washington will be in effect all year round.

Efforts that employers must make during smoky conditions range based on air quality, and they include providing respiratory protection, requiring N95 masks, and requiring immediate medical attention and relocating the person to clean air when experiencing symptoms of smoke exposure.

Source NM reported that a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 87 percent of Americans experienced more days of heavy smoke in 2021 than they had in 2011. The change was marked east of the Mississippi River in states including New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — and Western states including Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington. Eastern and Midwestern states this year were subjected to far more smoke than usual from the record-breaking fires in Canada.

Wildfire smoke contains an unpredictable mix of vaporized chemicals and microscopic particles that can enter the bloodstream when inhaled. The dangers have increased from the days of “forest fires” burning mostly trees and other vegetation; wildland/urban interface fires now often include smoke from burning plastics, construction materials, vehicles, outdoor equipment, and other hazardous fuels.

Dense smoke from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Oregon
 Dense smoke from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Oregon. Inciweb photo.

Even at low levels, pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes and respiratory tracts of particularly sensitive people including children, older adults, and those with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. At higher levels, pollutants in smoke can cause heart attacks and damage lung function.

France’s ‘Zombie Fire’ still alive after 1½ years

The soil under the Hostens Forest in Gironde, France is burning. Not only have numerous rains not been enough to snuff out the flame, but time itself seems to have had no effect.

Four major wildfires over the summer of 2022, totaling around 69,000 acres between July and August, caused the evacuation of 46,000 locals. Authorities suspect human involvement and an investigation has been launched.

Satellite images showing the impact of the wildfire in Gironde between 12 and 17 July 2022
Satellite images show the impact of the wildfire in Gironde in July 2022. Click for more.

Ever since, the fire has traveled from the surface to underground; it’s still burning despite weeks of rainfall. The underground fuel was partially created by an old lignite (brown coal) mine that produced electricity for the region until it shut down in 1964. After he heard it was partly the reason the fire was still burning, a reader of the Sud Ouest daily newspaper shared images of a field trip he’d taken to the mine as a child.

The continuous fire’s other cause, though, is the land itself. The Landes forest region, where the fires are burning, used to be an extensive marshland filled with moors. That changed in the early 1800s when the area’s sand dunes were stabilized by humans so they could set up plantations and plant a vast pine forest for timber purposes.

The drained, dried-out peatland is as perfect a fuel as you could find for a wildfire. Making matters worse, the artificial forest standing on top of the peat has dried out as well — a result of severe ongoing drought. The combination has forced French authorities to essentially gut the area of all vegetation until all fires are out.

“We are constantly on guard,” said Pascale Got, who handles environmental issues for the Gironde département, according to The Local. “When vegetation starts to grow again, we cut it down. Given the amount that we have cut down so far, I don’t think there will be a resumption of wildfires, unless there is an exceptional drought.”

This kind of continuous fire, or “zombie fire,” isn’t unheard of. A similar fire in Louisiana’s Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge burned for two months before it was extinguished on December 4. The continual burning plagued the area with “noxious” smoke.

Overwintering fires, wildfires that continue to burn deep in a fuelbed until weather favors flaming behavior and firespread, have also occurred with increased frequency in North America’s boreal forests. Research published in 2021 found that flare-ups from these overwintering fires could partially be predicted by monitoring edges of fire perimeters from the preceding year.

Officials worry that another period of severe drought could start new fires; according to the Connexion, Gironde officials plan to reforest the area in France once the fires have been completely resolved.


Lahaina reopens to residents

The heart of the historic town of Lahaina that burned in a deadly August wildfire that killed at least 100 people on the Hawaiian island of Maui is reopening to residents and business owners holding day passes, according to an Associated Press story, and the renewed access marks a big milestone for the victims of the fires. Safely clearing properties and rebuilding will still take a long time, and residents are worried about where on the island the remaining fire debris will be discarded.

Banyan Tree Park, home to a treasured 150-year-old Banyan tree that burned in the fire but is now producing new sprouts, is re-opened, along with the public library, an elementary school, and some restaurants.

Maui air quality map
Maui air quality map

The state Department of Health has confirmed that the ash and dust left by the fire is toxic — and that arsenic is the biggest concern. Arsenic is a heavy metal that adheres to wildfire dust and ash and can be harmful. Samples collected in early November from dozens of sites on the island also showed high levels of lead, commonly used in house paint for buildings constructed before 1978.

The federal EPA is removing risks such as batteries, pesticides, propane tanks, and other hazards and chemicals from local buildings. Residents and property owners can visit their sites after the EPA has cleared them. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hauling debris to a landfill after property owners grant permission, using lined dumpsters that are then wrapped and sealed before they are dumped at the landfill.

Maui air quality map
Maui air quality map

The EPA and the state health department have installed dozens of air monitors in Lahaina and upcountry Maui, where another fire burned in early August. The FIRE AND SMOKE MAP is online; residents snd visitors are advised to avoid outdoor activity during times of elevated air pollution.