Northern California Firestorm Victims Can Get Help
I’m Ed Smith, a North Bay Fire Injury Lawyer. Last October, Northern California faced one of the most devastating natural disasters in modern California history. Multiple wind-driven fires ignited and for several weeks, the blazes burned through numerous counties including California’s famous wine country. In the end, this disaster also called the Northern California Firestorm, scorched over 245,000 acres, destroyed 8,000 structures and left thousands of people homeless. Forty-four people lost their lives, and at least 185 people were injured.
I want to express my sincere sympathy to the survivors who lost their loved ones in the devastating fires.
What is the Northern California Firestorm?
The Northern California Firestorm is a series of wildfires that began flaming through Northern California in October 2017. During severe, dry weather conditions, the wildfires turned into major fires that burned across Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Yuba counties.
Seventeen major fires were reported burning simultaneously:
- Tubbs Fire (Napa/Sonoma Counties) – known as the single most destructive fire in the history of California, the Tubbs Fire started on October 8, 2017, at about 9:45 pm. It burned over 36,000 acres, destroyed close to 6,000 structures and claimed 22 lives.
- Atlas Fire (Napa/Solano Counties) – erupting near Atlas Peak Road on October 8, 2017, the Atlas Fire torched over 51,000 acres, destroyed 120 structures and damaged close to 800 buildings. Six people were killed.
- Nuns Fire (Napa/Sonoma Counties) – the Nuns Fire started on October 8, 2017, and eventually merged with the Adobe, Pressley, Norrbom, Patrick and Oakmont Fires. The combined fire scorched over 56,000 acres, demolished more than 1300 buildings and damaged nearly 200 others. Three people lost their lives.
- Cherokee Fire (Butte County) – The Cherokee Fire started in the late hours of October 8, 2017, near Oroville just after 9 pm. It quickly grew from hundreds to thousands of acres within a couple of hours. Over 8,000 acres were torched.
- Pocket Fire (Sonoma County) – the Pocket Fire started in the early hours of October 9, 2017. It torched over 17,000 acres, destroyed six buildings and damaged two others.
- Redwood Valley Fire (Mendocino County) – the Redwood Valley Fire started on October 9, 2017. It scorched through more than 36,000 acres, demolished over 500 structures and damaged over 40 buildings. The fire killed nine people and injured 43 others.
- Sulphur Fire (Lake County) – the Sulphur Fire started on October 9, 2017. It burned over 2000 acres, destroyed more than 160 buildings and damaged eight others.
- 37 Fire (Sonoma County) – the 37 Fire started on October 9, 2017. It burned over 1600 acres, destroyed 25 structures and damaged 55 others.
- Cascade Fire (Yuba County) – the Cascade Fire started on October 9, 2017. It burned nearly 10,000 acres and destroyed 143 homes and 123 buildings.
- La Porte Fire (Butte County) – the La Porte Fire started on October 9, 2017, and torched more than 6,000 acres.
- Lobo Fire (Nevada County) – the Lobo Fire started on October 9, 2017. It scorched over 800 acres and destroyed at least 30 structures.
- Bear Fire (Santa Cruz) – the Bear Fire started on October 16, 2017. It burned nearly 400 acres and destroyed four structures. Seven people were seriously injured in the fire.
Watch YouTube Video: Drone Shows Endless Smoke and Fire in the North Bay. This video from KPIX CBS SF Bay Area shows drone footage of the devastating fires in the North Bay area.
Impact of the Northern California Fires
The extent of damages from the wildfires is well known with over 245,000 acres burned, thousands of homes and businesses destroyed, and 44 fire-related deaths. Many of the victims who died in the fire were killed either in the late evening of October 8th or early morning of October 9th when the flames first started. The victims ranged in age from 4 to 100 years old. However, most of them were the elderly who were not able to escape the fire in time. About 90,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes.
The wildfires also caused severe air quality problems around the Bay Area. Just four days after the fire first broke out, smoke from the flames had spread 100 miles reaching San Francisco, Oakland and San Rafael. The poor air quality caused the cancellations of many outdoor activities, classes at San Francisco State University and flights at San Francisco International Airport. The air quality in Napa was rated the worst in the country, reaching the hazardous level by October 13th, which is considered the most dangerous based on the Environmental Protection Agency scale. Over 250 people in Solano County got sick by smoke inhalation and sought medical attention.
More than 10,000 firefighters, including those from Canada and Australia, fought the blaze using over 1000 fire trucks and other equipment. The Northern California fires were the priciest wildfires, costing at least $9.4 billion in insured damages.
Watch YouTube Video: Smoke from North Bay Fires Creating Unprecedented Levels of Unhealthy Air. This video from news organization KPIX CBS SF Bay Area reports on poor air quality in the Bay Area due to the North Bay fires.
What Started the Fires?
Although the exact causes of the fires are still under investigation, initial reports believe Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) may be partially responsible for causing the Tubbs Fire and surrounding fires. Extensive studies suggest that downed power lines and electrical equipment were found throughout Napa and Sonoma counties as the fire started. Reports also indicate that PG&E’s practices of not managing vegetation or maintaining power lines around the area could have led to the fires. According to several reports, fire crews responded to calls reporting sparking wires, electrical outages and transformer explosions near PG&E equipment.
Not PG&E’s First Time
This is not the first time PG&E has been accused of negligence with power line maintenance and vegetation management. Reports show PG&E has a history of violating safety regulations that resulted in devastating fire explosions and damages.
- The utility company was blamed for the 1994 Trauner Fire in the Sierra foothills. A $29 million settlement was reached in 1999.
- PG&E was fined $38 million for causing the 2003 Mission District Substation fire and the 2008 Rancho Cordova explosion.
- The company paid $1.6 billion in penalties for the 2010 San Bruno explosion.
- PG&E paid a total fine of $36 million for the 2011 Cupertino explosion and the 2014 Carmel explosion.
- The company paid $98.3 million in fines and costs for the 2015 Butte fire.
Lawsuits Against PG&E
Cal Fire investigators are looking into growing evidence that suggests PG&E’s reckless conduct and management practices may have caused some of the northern California fires. There are pending lawsuits against the utility company based on the following claims:
- A May 2013 report from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) found that PG&E’s old infrastructure showed substantial safety problems, especially in adverse weather conditions.
- PG&E has over 10 years of data that showed strong winds frequently occur in the area which poses a severe risk to its equipment.
- Safety regulators warned PG&E in May 2016 that specific areas in the North Bay are at high risk for wildfires if the power lines came in contact with the dry vegetation and other severe environmental conditions.
- PG&E continued an out-of-date and dangerous procedure called reclosers to restart power automatically after a service is interrupted. Reclosers detect fault currents and automatically restore service after an outage.
North Bay Fire Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a North Bay Fire Injury Lawyer. If you or someone you love was injured or killed in the Northern California Firestorm, you deserve full and fair compensation for your loss. You may be entitled to recover compensation beyond your insurance policy limits. Call me today at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly legal advice.
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