California Wildfire Survivor Bills Pass Senate Committee

Four bills sponsored by the California Department of Insurance that the department believes will strengthen consumer protections for wildfire survivors have passed the Senate Insurance Committee with unanimous, bipartisan votes.

Assembly Bill 1772 would extend the amount of time a home or business owner has to rebuild an insured property from two to three years after a declared wildfire emergency and receive the full replacement costs to which they are entitled.

Downed Power Lines Sparked Deadly California Fires, Investigation Shows

A dozen wildfires that burned thousands of homes in California’s wine country and killed at least 15 people last October were started by Pacific Gas & Electric power lines and utility poles, state fire officials said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released its investigation Friday for some of the wind-driven fires that ravaged Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties.

California Legislators Said to Consider Wildfire Relief Fund to Help Utilities

California lawmakers are said to be considering a proposal to help utilities shoulder billions of dollars in potential liability costs while offering relief to wildfire victims by setting up a compensation fund that would be backed by the state and the power companies.

Details, including the size, are still being worked out and the proposal – one of a number of options being considered – may not come together, according to people familiar with the discussions who asked not to be identified because they aren’t public. The fund could issue bonds, with the payments potentially provided by utility shareholders, ratepayers and revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program or general fund, the people said.

California Bill Would Shield PG&E, Edison from Some Wildfire Liability

Utility giants PG&E Corp. and Edison International could gain at least some protection against future wildfire damages under a bill that’s advancing in California’s legislature.

An amended bill being weighed by California’s Senate would shield utilities that follow approved safety plans in future state proceedings should one of their power lines spark a wildfire. Utilities would remain vulnerable to potential civil lawsuits, and the legislation wouldn’t be retroactive — meaning PG&E and Edison could still face billions of dollars in costs from wildfires that destroyed thousands of structures last year.

California Governor Suspends Mobile Home Regulations to Help Fire Victims

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed an executive order removing barriers to mobile home construction and placement in an effort to help residents displaced by the recent Southern California mudslides and wildfires.

The order suspends for three months all regulations included in the state’s laws governing mobile and manufactured homes.

Facing Blame for Fires, Utility Plans 24/7 Prediction and Response Center in California

(TNS) — Pacific Gas and Electric Co. plans to unveil a sweeping set of steps to prevent wildfires or contain them when they erupt.

The utility, whose equipment is being investigated as a potential cause of the Wine Country fires last fall, will create a wildfire prediction and response center in San Francisco that will operate around the clock during fire season. The company will greatly expand its own network of weather stations to monitor conditions, adding hundreds more this year.

PG&E will contract with out-of-state firefighters, keeping them on retainer for emergencies. And it will harden its electrical grid to better endure windstorms, replacing wooden poles with sturdier steel ones over time.

Fire Season Could be Bad in the Pacific Northwest

(TNS) - Wildland firefighters expect the Pacific Northwest will see another busy fire season this year with land around Yakima especially vulnerable.

“If I were to pick one place that might experience above-average fire danger, it’s the Yakima Valley and the eastern slopes” of the Cascade Mountains, said Josh Clark, a meteorologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Less rain in the winter, above-average temperatures and less mountain snow mean fires could start earlier and burn longer than a typical season, Clark said.

More Than 60 Deaths in Fires, Floods Exposes Weaknesses in California's Emergency Planning

(TNS) — A reckoning on public preparedness long in the making is underway in California after a year that saw unprecedented death, destruction and loss from disasters set off by extreme weather.

Though California has long experienced natural disasters tied to weather, the last year recorded a staggering human toll — more than 40 dead in wine country fires and more than 20 in Santa Barbara County mudslides.

Sonoma County, Calif., Learns Bitter Lessons from Deadly Fire, Adopts Reforms

Sonoma County, which lost 25 lives in last October’s wildfires, has changed the ways in which it alerts residents after scathing criticism for not using cellphone alerts during the devasting fires last fall.

The then emergency manager and others decided against sending out mass alerts because they believed they could not adequately target who received the messages and didn’t want to “over-alert.” They felt that doing so could lead people who were safe to evacuate into a more dangerous area or cause severe traffic.

California Spent $1.8B Fighting 2017 Wildfires

California state agencies spent nearly $1.8 billion fighting fierce wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses last year, legislative budget experts reported Thursday.

The federal government will reimburse most of the costs, but the state will still need to come up with about $371 million on top of the state’s existing wildfire budget, the Legislative Analyst’s Office told the Senate Budget committee. That shouldn’t be a problem because state revenue has far exceeded expectations so far this fiscal year and the general fund is flush with cash.

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