Tax relief for victims of November 8 wildfires in California

Applies to victims of the Camp and Woolsey Fires

IRSPeople who reside in or had businesses in the areas that burned in the wildfires that started in California on November 8, 2018 could qualify for federal tax relief.

The Camp and Woolsey Fires destroyed thousands of homes in Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Since the President declared the fires to be major disasters residents with losses in those locations may be able to take advantage of slightly extended deadlines for filing federal tax returns.

In addition, taxpayers in the federally declared disaster areas have the option of claiming disaster-related casualty losses on their federal income tax return for either the year in which the event occurred, or the prior year. See IRS Publication 547 for details. IRS Publication 976 has instructions for tax relief for the California fires of 2017.

Individuals may deduct personal property losses that are not covered by insurance or other reimbursements. IRS Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, has more details.

General information about the program can be found at the IRS website.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Initial attack on Woolsey Fire was hampered by shortage of resources

The quickly spreading Hill Fire started 21 minutes before, 15 miles to the west

3D Map Woolsey Fire Ventura County Los Angeles d-D
3-D Map of the Woolsey Fire. The red line was the perimeter. Click to enlarge.

No wildfire starts at the right time, but the fire that Los Angeles County describes as the worst in the county’s modern history began at a particularly bad time. The Woolsey Fire was reported on November 8, 2018 21 minutes after the Hill Fire about 15 miles to the west. Both began in Ventura County in Southern California while strong Santa Ana winds were blowing out of the north and northeast. The Camp Fire which started about 8 hours earlier in Northern California had already destroyed thousands of homes in the Paradise area.

The incident commanders decided that the Hill Fire had the greatest immediate potential to affect lives and property — there were fewer homes close to the point of origin of the Woolsey Fire.

Progression map Woolsey Fire
Progression map of the north side of the Woolsey Fire, prepared by the Incident Management Team. Click to enlarge.

With resources flooding in to the Hill Fire, the first unit to arrive at the Woolsey fire got there almost 20 minutes after it was reported. In a densely populated part of the country where it is common to have hundreds of engines on a rapidly spreading wildfire within hours, after 60 minutes only 11 engines were on scene.

About 12 minutes after it was reported, the quickly growing Hill Fire jumped the 101 Freeway but 2 hours later it hit an area that had burned in 2013 and slowed, allowing firefighters to make significant progress. By midnight the incident commander shifted some resources over to the Woolsey Fire which had spread to Agoura Hills.

By 4 a.m. on November 9 pushed by increasing winds gusting to 70 mph, the Woolsey Fire crossed the 101 Freeway and at the end of the day had spread to the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles from where it started a little more than 24 hours before.

Map Woolsey Fire Ventura County Los Angeles
Map of the Woolsey and Hill Fires.

Stats: Hill Fire / Woolsey Fire

  • Acres: 4,500 / 97,000
  • Structures destroyed: 4 / 1,500
  • Fatalities: 0 / 3
  • Length (miles): 4 / 20

The Hill Fire had far more firefighting resources assigned during the first six hours, compared to the Woolsey Fire which was starved of engines and aircraft during that period. But the Hill Fire spread into a previous burn and slowed which made the firefighters’ jobs easier.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Los Angeles Times about the fire.

…Veteran firefighters say it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

“In my 30 years of experience, I’ve never seen a fire that explosive,” [Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Trevor]  Richmond said. “Seeing how quickly that fire traveled to Agoura Hills and Oak Park and Thousand Oaks and jumped the freeway the next morning, and in four hours, it’s burning kelp beds in the Pacific Ocean — that’s pretty incredible.

“This one was the big one,” he said.


[Ventura County Fire Assistant Chief Dustin] Gardner said he was repeatedly on the phone begging the state to send more tankers to Ventura County, arguing the Woolsey fire had the potential to hit Malibu, not realizing how bad the Camp fire had become. Within the first hour of the Hill fire, the incident commander doubled his order from four to eight air tankers.

Soon after, a dispatcher asked him if they could divert one of his fire’s tankers to the Woolsey fire, which was potentially going to threaten homes and businesses in Simi Valley.

“You can divert one of the air tankers,” Ventura County Fire Assistant Chief Chad Cook, the Hill fire incident commander, said. “We’ll keep the rest of them here.”

About 40 minutes later, at 3:37 p.m., a dispatcher told the Hill fire incident commander two air tankers and two helitankers would soon arrive to fight the blaze. Only a few minutes later, the Woolsey incident commander was told by a dispatcher that the region had no more air tankers it could send, but that there were multiple helicopters available.

About an hour later, the Woolsey incident commander seemed to be frustrated by his tanker requests going unfilled.

“I’d like to talk to my neighboring fire (commander) and see if I can get some from him,” the Woolsey incident commander told his aerial coordinator over the radio at 4:26 p.m.

“Correct, sir,” the aerial coordinator said. “We’ve been trying to negotiate resource sharing. We’ll see how that goes.”

But the Woolsey fire began spreading at a much faster pace — with far fewer firefighters on the ground than were battling the Hill fire…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Report: CAL FIRE prevented insurance company fire engines from accessing customers’ homes during Woolsey Fire

Satellite photo smoke Woolsey Fire
Satellite photo showing smoke from the Woolsey Fire at 10:42 a.m. PST November 9, 2018. Click to enlarge.

For the last 12 years we have been aware of insurance companies sending fire engines to protect high-valued homes covered by their policies when a wildfire approaches. Companies such as Chubb figure keeping a multi-million dollar home from burning is less expensive than paying to rebuild it, so they contract with Wildfire Defense and other companies to send firefighters to their customers properties when smoke is in the air.

The tricky part is intermixing the private crews with the existing incident management organization. Some jurisdictions view the insurance company crews as personnel that need to be protected, rather than fellow firefighters engaged in the fire fight. This became very evident during the Woolsey Fire in November when CAL FIRE prohibited the private engine crews from accessing their customers’ homes, including mansions in Malibu, California.

Below is an excerpt from the Malibu Times:

…While benefits seem obvious for insurance companies, statewide fire officials point out they complicate firefighting efforts for central command, since they cannot communicate readily with rank-and-file crews. Now, in the fallout of the Woolsey Fire—where resources were spread so thin many homes did not see any fire engines at all—questions are being asked about why private crews were turned away.

Malibu resident Ron Krisel, who is insured by USAA (only available to active, retired and honorably discharged members of the U.S. military), was eligible for the services of a private firefighting crew. However, he was notified by USAA that when their crew checked in with the joint command for the Woolsey Fire, they were told by CAL FIRE that they would not be allowed to come into Malibu and, something to the effect that, if they disobeyed, they would never be allowed in during a fire from now on.

Krisel’s house burned down the day after the fire came through—a casualty of still-blowing embers. He feels strongly that if the private crew contracted by USAA had been allowed to come in, his house would’ve been saved—they would’ve kept an eye on the burning embers and hot spots and put them out before the house caught fire. County firefighters never showed up.

When The Malibu Times contacted Scott McLean, public information officer for CAL FIRE Woolsey Fire, to ask why, he said he wasn’t familiar with this particular incident, and would only be able to talk about their policy in general.

McLean verified that private fire companies must check in with the authorities at the joint command to show documentation from the insurance company and the address of the specific house.

“It’s a common thing—no big deal. We rarely turn them away,” McLean said. “But if there’s an evacuation order for the area the house is in, they cannot come in.” That’s the most obvious reason why the crew coming to Krisel’s house was turned away—the Malibu evacuation order must have already been in effect.

Our opinion:

Private engine crews can be helpful in keeping certain high-value structures from burning during a rapidly spreading wildfire when there are not enough government resources to protect every home. However, if they have no communication with the incident management organization which does not have any knowledge of their location, mission, or capabilities, it can throw a monkey wrench into an already chaotic situation.

CAL FIRE, the U.S. Forest Service, and the other large organizations involved in wildfire suppression need to sit down with the insurance companies and agree on some standard operating procedures. The Incident Management Team needs to know what the private crews are doing and where, and the private crews need to have direct communication with the Team.

One day, when all firefighting resources are carrying equipment that makes it possible to track their location, this will become much easier — and safer. The federal and state agencies need to get off their butts and implement these tracking systems.

Helicopter on Woolsey Fire rescues people trapped on mountain top

Three people and two dogs were were evacuated as the fire approached

Helicopter Rescue Woolsey Fire California
Screenshot from the LA Fire Department video below. Three people and two dogs were rescued as the Woolsey Fire approached.

(Originally published at Fire Aviation)

While on a water dropping mission on November 9, the second day of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter received a new assignment. Civilians were trapped on a mountain top as the fire approached. Even as they were running critically low on fuel the pilots found a way to land on a ridge top that was littered with communication towers and vehicles.

The video below was shot from a pilot’s helmet camera.

It was great work, team work, by the pilots to successfully pull this off. We appreciate that he filmed what they were doing, and that their department approved and helped to publicize the fact that the recording exists. Some public agencies have draconian rules about their employees or the public taking photos or recording video of their activities. Videos like this can help citizens understand what fire departments do and how they are carrying out their missions even as politicians may lob uninformed verbal assaults their way.

CAL FIRE says the Woolsey Fire has burned 96,949 acres and 1,500 structures, with no breakdown of residences vs. outbuildings. The number of civilian fatalities has remained at three for several days.

Woolsey Fire in Southern California beginning to demobilize as President visits

Mr. Trump toured the fire site after seeing the Camp Fire in Northern California

President Trump visits the Woolsey Fire
President Trump visits the Woolsey Fire, November 17, 2018. Screen shot from the ABC7 video below.

(Originally published at 3:07 p.m. PST November 18, 2018)

After President Trump visited the site of the Camp Fire at Paradise, California Saturday, he flew on Air Force One from Beale Air Force Base 360 miles south to NAS Point Mugu about 8 miles west of the western edge of the Woolsey Fire. From there a motorcade took the entourage to where the blaze stopped at the Pacific ocean on November 9 as it was being driven by strong Santa Ana winds out of the northeast. At Malibu the President toured the sites of burned houses on Point Dume with Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Progression map Woolsey Fire
Progression map of the Woolsey Fire, November 17, 2018. Produced by the Incident Management Team. To see a full size version, click HERE (very large 9 MB file).

Firefighting resources are beginning to be released from the Woolsey Fire, and Sunday is the last day that the helibase will be in operation.

CAL FIRE says the fire has burned  96,949 acres and 1,130 structures, with no breakdown of residences vs. outbuildings. The number of civilian fatalities has remained at three for several days.

Officials have lifted evacuation orders for all locations in Ventura County, but remain in effect for some areas in Los Angeles County. Here is a link to official current information about evacuations.

Rain is in the forecast for the fire area on Wednesday with the potential for about 0.7″ in the Thousand Oaks area. There is a 20 percent chance of debris flows below the burn areas, with a possible effect on properties and roadways.

Now that the fire activity has decreased scientists are moving in to begin an assessment of the changes. For example, they have already determined according to the LA Times, that “of 13 mountain lions with radio collars they had been tracking before the Woolsey fire broke out, scientists confirmed that 12 were alive and moving outside of the burned areas.”

map of the Woolsey Fire
The red line on the map of the Woolsey Fire was the perimeter at 7 p.m. PST November 16, 2018. The white line was the perimeter on November 12.

Most of the land within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area burned, destroying at least 616 structures including the Paramount Ranch where many western-themed shows were filmed. The National Park Service hopes to rebuild the western town within two years with the help of a fundraising campaign in Hollywood.

The Camp and Woolsey Fires have burned more than 10,000 structures

The death toll increased Thursday evening to a total of 66 for the two fires in California.

map destroyed homes structures camp fire paradise california
Red icons represent structures that are more than 50 percent burned in the Paradise and Magalia areas of the Camp Fire. The full zoomable map is HERE, where a person can search for individual addresses.

(UPDATED at 8:07 p.m. PST November 15, 2018)

Thursday evening fire authorities updated some of the information about the Camp Fire which has devastated areas around the town of Paradise, California. According to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office the number of fatalities has risen to 63, an increase of 7 over the last 24 hours. And surprisingly, the number that are unaccounted for changed from 130 to 631. Some of those could be in shelters, relocated to another part of the state, or without means of communication.

As of Thursday evening the fire has destroyed 9,700 single residences, 118 multi-residences, and 290 commercial structures, for a total of 10,108 buildings.

According to CAL FIRE, the Camp fire has burned 141,000 acres, an increase of exactly 1,000 acres in 24 hours.

(Originally published at 8:25 a.m. PST November 15, 2018)

A total of more than a quarter of a million acres have burned in the Woolsey and Camp Fires in California.

About 460 workers and 22 cadaver dogs are assessing the path that the Camp Fire took as it devastated the town of Paradise in Northern California on November 8. The estimated number of homes destroyed in the blaze is fluid and keeps rising, reaching 8,756 Thursday morning with another 260 commercial structures destroyed. The fatalities the crews have discovered has risen to 56, with 130 people still unaccounted for.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Woolsey Fire, including the most recent, click HERE. For the Camp Fire, click HERE.

For the last several days the Camp Fire has continued to spread on the north and east sides, at a slower rate than earlier, but still adding thousands of acres each day. CAL FIRE is saying the fire has burned 140,000 acres.

ESRI and CAL FIRE, working with local emergency service providers, have established a mapping system that displays the status of structures affected by the Camp Fire. It is still a work in progress and is far from complete, as the workers survey the more than 10,000 homes in the Paradise and Magalia areas. Residents can view the map and search for addresses at the internet site.

Some of the refugees from the Camp Fire who have not been allowed into the burned area are living in temporary shelters and camping in parking lots of Walmart and other businesses.

In southern California, the Woolsey Fire has grown very little in the last couple of days, but unburned islands of vegetation occasionally ignite and put up substantial smoke columns. Officials estimate that 504 structures have been destroyed, but a survey that was 25 percent complete Wednesday evening found 370 that were confirmed to have burned. The numbers have not been broken out by residences, outbuildings, and commercial structures.

At about 12:20 Thursday morning a firefighter on the Woolsey Fire was struck by a passing civilian vehicle on the Pacific Coast Highway and was flown to Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. The injuries for the firefighter, who was from South Kitsap Fire and Rescue in Washington, were non-life threatening. Officials said it was not a hit and run incident.

On Wednesday fire officials raised the death total to three on the Woolsey Fire. CAL FIRE is saying the blaze has burned 98,362 acres.