PG & E Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter

So who will be held accountable? No one. PG&E pleads guilty to 84 deaths in 2018 Camp Fire.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson made the roughly 170-mile journey from the company’s San Francisco headquarters to a Butte County courthouse to plead guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from a November 2018 wildfire ignited by the utility’s crumbling electrical grid. The blaze nearly wiped out the entire town of Paradise and drove PG&E into bankruptcy early last year.

It’s all a sham, meant to “shame” the company. No one will be imprisoned. (Hat tip to Wirecutter.)

PG&E and Manslaughter

The Camp Fire is still in the news. PG&E pleads guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for 2018 Camp Fire.

Not sure how you hold a corporation responsible for these acts. It is clear none of the executives will be held accountable.

The Camp Fire started in November 2018, and burned a whole lot of California. A transmission line near Camp Road in Pulga, CA started the whole thing.

Monday, the utility said it will plead to all 84 counts of manslaughter as part of a plea agreement with the Butte County district attorney.

The company also agreed to pay a maximum $3.5 million fine, in addition to $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney Environmental and Consumer Protection Trust Fund to cover costs related to the fire investigation.

To remind yourself about the Camp Fire, you can start with may posts on the subject.

Failed PG&E Infrastructure Maintenance

As always Juan Browne of Blancliro has some interesting info. The video includes photographs of both a failed component, and some components near failure from the area the are where the Camp Fire started. A failure of a power-line where a “c-hook” failed and allowed the power-line to contact the tower, causing enough of a spark to get the Camp Fire started in the Feather River Canyon near Pulga, California.

The tower in question was last inspected in 2001. In the interim, PG&E has been relying on helicopter flyby inspections. The photographic evidence starts a little bit past the 3 minute, 30 second mark. The video is worth a look.

And let the rest of the nation heed this warning of what’s happening here in California, with your infrastructure nationwide.

The governor of California has rejected the settlement as presented by PG&E. So it isn’t clear if the company will be able to exit bankruptcy anytime soon.

Hat tip to Wirecutter.

One of the things that is clear is that PG&E is going to need a whole bunch of linemen to get the infrastructure upgraded.

Camp Fire – One Year On

I hate it when I miss important anniversaries. California’s Camp Fire started early on the morning of November 8, 2018. It would be an incredibly destructive fire, both in terms of property and lives lost. After a year, the area impacted is coming back to life, but very slowly.

There are no shortage of articles marking the anniversary. Few seem to capture what happened that day. ‘That fearsome day’: I escaped the Camp Fire. One year later, the recovery isn’t over.

Information was hard to come by. Then the phone began to ring and rumors began to spread. I gathered three of our cats and got them in their carriers. The fourth one, always more skittish, saw me coming, heard me coaxing and ran away. I remember the last glimpse of her vividly. She always comes to mind in any inventory of losses.

By the end of that day, nearly a hundred of our fellow ridge residents would be dead. Almost everything familiar to the rest of us would be gone. Almost everyone would spend that fearsome day fleeing the fire in slow motion, caught in traffic that inched along one of the few evacuation routes.

The population of Paradise, California was about 26,000 before the fire. By the end of the year, it will be between 4 and 5 thousand people.

Blancoliro has an update on the situation. Camp Fire UPDATE Rebuilding Nov 2019. It’s a 20 minute video, but I think it’s worth the time. Before and after photos. Video of the situation on the ground. etc.

Nova’s Inside The Megafire

Considering the source, it is fairly well-balanced. Inside the Megafire.

It is a long video at 53 minutes, so make sure you have some time.

From the front line of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, NOVA tells the stories of residents who had to flee for their lives during the 2018 fire season. Scientists racing to understand what’s behind the rise of record-breaking megafires across the American West take to the forest, and even a fire lab, in search of answers. They investigate how forestry practices, climate change, and the physics of fire itself play a role in the dramatic increase in wildfires in recent decades. (Premiered May 8, 2019)

There’s a nice mix of fire science, and a recognition that more than a century of mismanaging the forest play a role in the megafires. As well as all the building done in the forest. Which I get, but why build incredibly combustible homes in places where fires are a reality? Why not have more fire-resistant building codes? Because reasons. (And remember, FEMA pays for at least some of the cleanup of these fires. That means your tax dollars at work.)

I haven’t watched PBS in decades, but the folks who are responsible for this episode of Nova used some of the aerial footage shot by Juan Browne of Blanoliro. Which is how I ran across it.

New Video on California’s Camp Fire

This video is interesting, even if parts of it come across as a bit of a PR piece for CalFire. Still, it’s worth the 17 minutes. The descriptions of 911 calls are particularly tough to listen to, even though I’m sure they edited out the worst bits.

The teaser for the video can be found at The Sacramento Bee: ‘We will not let you die today!’ Dramatic new firefighter video shows Camp Fire chaos.

The full video is at YouTube. INTO THE FIRE

Why Do People Refuse to Learn from the Past?

Homes being rebuilt in Paradise, CA are being stick built. Bakersfield native helps in Camp Fire long-term recovery.

The video at the link above briefly shows a home being built in Paradise, about halfway through. 2-by-4, or 2-by-6 stick-built construction is exactly what went up like candles during the camp fire. (Not the best article/video on the Camp Fire, but I am still mesmerized by the coverage.)

I admit to searching the real estate ads in and around Paradise. A large number of lots that held homes which burned are now for sale. Some have been cleared and are ready for construction. Some not. But if I was to buy one or 2 and build, I think I would go with something a little more fireproof. Concrete (poured or block) exterior walls. Metal studs in interior walls. Not a perfect solution, but a step up from kiln-dried pine. Earth-bermed or earth-sheltered homes would probably be best, though I’m guessing you would have trouble getting them approved, as a lot of the neighborhoods in Paradise seem to be PUDs.

“An epidemic of dead and dying trees”

2018 saw the worst wild fire in California history, The Camp Fire. It destroyed the town of Paradise, killed people, and drove an electric utility into bankruptcy. Cal Fire report pinpoints thinning of forests to reduce Ca. wildfire risks.

A new February 22, 2019 report was issued by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) which announces a plan that the state of California needs to implement to address forest management and community development actions required immediately to accomplish reductions in risks of future wildfires.

My guess is that the environmentalists of California will fight cutting down even the dead trees, let alone the dying ones. That is specifically called out in the report, and contributes to the title to this post.

Many of the states government and political leaders as well as newspapers like the Los Angeles Times have tried to blame nebulous “climate change” as an excuse for California’s recent wildfires and even criticized those addressing California’s poor forest management and community development policies as being huge contributors to these wildfires. The Cal Fire report clearly lays out actions steps that deal with and address new forest management and community development actions that are required to be undertaken.

Bets on how far Cal Fire will get down this road?

California’s Camp Fire, and The Poor Decisions in Paradise

Paradise, California ignored warnings. They made decisions against the advice of traffic engineers. They thought they knew how to answer, “What is the worst that could happen?” Here’s how Paradise ignored warnings and became a deathtrap.

This is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the Camp Fire.

The fate of Paradise was cast long before a windstorm last month fueled the deadliest fire in California history.

The people in charge locally (city and county) and at the state level are wringing their hands and saying the disaster was unforeseeable. But there are examples listed in the article of other fires that moved in similar ways. The whole place was a forest in the middle of a state known for fires.

A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Paradise ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced, crafted no plan to evacuate the area all at once, entrusted public alerts to a system prone to fire, and did not sound citywide orders to flee even as a hail of fire rained down.

This is the 2nd story I’ve read that contains concrete examples of someone who refused to believe that this fire would be a problem. No other fire had been a problem, and no one – not even the town or county leaders – seem to have read the 2005 report saying that Paradise could be in the same position as Berkley and Oakland were in 1991.

The City of Paradise narrowed the main street, Skyline, to make it more pedestrian friendly. The result was that fewer cars per hour could traverse that section of town, and it became one of the bottlenecks.

The engineering firm that designed the project said it would reduce the number of vehicles that could pass through and advised against further “improvements,” such as a concrete median, citing the need to remember that the road was a fire evacuation route.

I love it when politicians think they know more than the engineers. Witness the result.

Traffic simulation software showed that Paradise would need 8 hours to evacuate under ideal conditions. The fire started at about 6:30 in the morning. The first mandatory evacuations of Paradise were called at 7:57 with the complete town being called for evacuation at 9:00. (Not that many people knew about it.) By 10 or 10:30 AM Paradise was completely involved in the fire.

The big problem is with plans. They planned for what they always saw. And they had drills that always worked. (This is endemic of disaster planning.) They never had a Plan B on anything.

Failing to prepare for the larger disaster is hardly unique to Paradise, said former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

Flaws in such planning are so common that Fugate describes them as the “deadly sins” of emergency management: Practicing drills that guarantee success; assuming that plans can be scaled up when a massive disaster strikes; relying on government systems to work under pressure; failing to plan how to protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly; and mistrusting the public, which often leads to not warning the public early enough.

You plan for a disaster, but you plan that everything you need will not be impacted by the disaster. Communications. Transportation.

Paradise police abandoned their dispatch center without ever sending a citywide order for other residents to flee.

And it isn’t only the .gov that falls down on that score. I saw it in Corporate America, because planning for the loss of a data center is expensive. Testing your backup plan is expensive. Most individuals are also not prepared for any kind a disaster, let alone what hit Paradise. If you had to evacuate right now, how much gas is in your vehicle? How many routes away from your area do you know? Are there bridges that might be out? Where is the traffic likely to be insane? Where would you go? How soon could you leave? What would you need to take with you?

California’s Camp Fire – A Documentary

This is one of the better documentaries on the whole of the Camp Fire. It is long, but it is so much better than a lot of stuff in the regular media. I said it is long, about 55 minutes.

There are interviews with people from the hospital that was evacuated, several adult care facilities that were also evacuated, firefighters who were all over the place, and more.

Of particular interest is the extended interview with a guy who, after he escaped from the fire, got in a bus, and drove back into heart of the inferno to help evacuate people. It was a relatively small, 25-person bus. He helped fire crews evacuate more than 75 people. That is what a hero looks like. His name is Bobby O’Reiley of Butte County, California. He wasn’t alone in going back into the fire to help evacuations; he’s just the one on the video.

So far, YouTube isn’t stopping playback of this video due to the privacy extensions in my browser, but I provided a link above just in case that changes.

California’s Camp Fire: The Breakdown in .gov Communications in Paradise, CA

They had drilled into people, “don’t evacuate until told to do so,” but most people never heard the order to evacuate, so a lot of them died in their homes or in their cars when they finally decided to stop waiting for the order. Escaping Paradise | California Wildfires: The New Normal. (From ABC 10 out of Sacramento.)

This is a long video – 20 minutes or so. But it is pretty good. And it highlights a couple of important lessons.

So the county (or city) had a plan. Call people via robocalls to tell them to evacuate. They never anticipated evacuating the whole town. The system was overloaded. And then the phone lines started to burn. They never used the Emergency Alert System (radio and TV). They never used the Wireless Alert System (Cellphones). Both of those are run by FEMA, which says no alerts were passed onto them.

The lessons?

First, FEMA says have a radio to listen for instructions from your local authority. But if the local authorities aren’t going to communicate via radio, what the hell is the point? How many of the hand-crank-charged AM/FM/Weather band radios have been sold? Most cellphones include AM/FM radio circuitry – which has been disabled. (Apple and the rest want to sell you their music service, so why provide free music?) If your local authority isn’t going to use EAS or the Wireless alerts, why are we paying for them? (Aside from the fact that it is a .gov jobs program, that is.) This lesson is for the .gov mostly. Use the news media. Use FEMA. That’s why they’re in place. For the rest of us, don’t believe that you always have all of the information. And really, really, don’t place too much trust in the .gov. They’re just as confused as you are.

Second, when you believe your life is in danger, don’t let other people make decisions for you. You’re an adult. Make your own decisions. Don’t follow the herd. I would say also don’t feel guilty that you survived and someone else didn’t, but that is easier said than done.

Finally, when you decide to run, run. Don’t walk. At least for the first part of the journey. Nothing you own is worth your life. And if your instincts are telling you to run, pay attention to the “run” part.

Coda: This is cellphone video of a guy evacuating during the fire. Language warning. He is freaking out because the fire is right on top of him.

And this is a compilation of drone video of the aftermath. Mostly burned structures. It is interesting to see one or two houses standing when everything else in the neighborhood has burned.

California’s Camp Fire – Tour of the Aftermath

I found this on YouTube because Knuckledraggin My Life Away linked to a different video on the fire by the same guy.

This is a long video – almost 27 minutes – but he is a pilot and rides a motorcycle, so he does a flyover, and he goes into some of the back country on his bike. It is interesting, but I realize people don’t have 20 minutes.

But the few minutes of the video that start at this point are a few words on the status of the trees BEFORE the Camp Fire started. The forest management that people have been hoping for and fighting against for years is simple when you see the rot that turned a large number of these trees into chimneys. (If you have 20 minutes the video is good. But for 10 minutes of your time, watch the video linked below first.)

Here’s a link to Wirecutter’s post and the video that first got my attention. It is about 10 minutes, and covers the current state of the investigation into the cause of this fire.

“What we do best is to stand there and look ugly.”

This situation around the fires in California reinforces something that many have known, but the majority seems to blissfully deny. Civilization is a fragile thing, and most are unprepared for even a partial collapse. Hellbent bikers provide security to Camp Fire evacuees at Chico church.

These evacuees aren’t street savvy, [Hellbent 823 chapter President Matt “Straws” Strausbaugh] said, “Two weeks ago their lives weren’t going in a direction that involved living in tents on the street.”

So the first task for the Hellbent club was to remove anyone who was threatening victims, causing trouble or scaring the children. Then, Strausbaugh said, “We switched from eject mode to protect mode.”

They had never contemplated the fact that they might have to stand up to addicts, and people threatening them or their children. And they were completely unprepared to do so when the situation arose. Enter the bikers, who take pride in standing up to people.

Craig Dunbar, with Hellbent 82 North, rattled off some of the dozen-plus clubs that have been volunteering their time and protection services. Their names are as colorful as their jackets; a few include the Jus Brothers from Oroville and Stockton, Sons of Hell out of Redding and the Street Outlaws from Red Bluff, Notorious from Chico, Henchmen and Hessians from San Joaquin, Curb Crawlers from Yuba City, Hells Angels from Sacramento and Dunbar’s fellow Hellbent brothers from Vallejo and Sacramento.

And he makes care to mention the Resurrection Motorcycle Club from Paradise, who nearly all lost their homes but have still been assisting with security.

Prepping for a disaster is as much about the idea as it is about having supplies. The “good citizens” mentioned in this piece are mostly unprepared – no supplies, no plans, no grit.

They didn’t know to try and keep the IV drug users away from their kids. The bikers found people shooting-up and discarded needles near where that kids were playing. The good citizens aren’t used to thinking about security; they take the security offered by society for granted.

People say that Thomas Hobbes was an unrealistic pessimist. But I think the state of that church/shelter before the bikers reestablished some level of order was exactly described by Hobbes’ State of War.

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Hat tip to Wirecutter.