Wildfires Still Making News… Long After the Last Ember Was Extinguished

Wildfires rarely occur in winter. But that hasn’t stopped them from being in the news lately.

The damage that wildfires has created in California in recent years is being blamed for last week’s deadly mudslides.

Also, Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation recently announced it will file for bankruptcy. That’s from the billions in potential liability for damage from the fires.

Finally, the partial government shutdown is on the hot seat for stalling the recovery of Paradise, California. The town was nearly wiped off the map a couple of months ago by the Camp Fire.

60 Large Blazes in One Week

Before we get into each of those news stories and the unexpected chaos the fires have created, let’s first give a brief reminder of the devastation caused by the Western wildfires.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported more than 60 large blazes across the country in 2017. And that was in one week alone! Countless numbers of people had to evacuate their homes.

Most of those fires raged in the West, where drought has been a big problem.
Dozens of them occurred in Colorado and California, destroying landscapes and homes.

Utah was also hit hard and the governor declared a state of emergency. A blaze grew to about 60 square miles near a popular fishing reservoir.

California Wildfires Set Record

In 2018, it was much worse. The fires raging through northern California last year were the largest in state history.

Sixteen different fires, including the Ranch Fire and the River Fire, destroyed 75 homes. And scorched 283,800 acres of land. And made tens of thousands evacuate.

Still fresh in many people’s minds is the Camp Fire that killed 65 people and burned 153,336 acres in Paradise. That made it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

The fire displaced more than 20,000 people. Some of them experienced weeks living in tents, trailers, parking lots and shelters.

Mudslides Blamed on Wildfires

Now fast forward to today. A horrible consequence of wildfires is the destruction of trees and vegetation. So when it rains, mudslides are much more likely to occur.

And that’s what happened in Southern California last week. Rainstorms brought mudslides that killed five people and created a 19-vehicle pileup on Cajon Pass in El Dorado County.

Imagine driving down a road, assuming you are safe. All of a sudden boulders and rocks slide down a hill and roll in front of you.

The Ventura River rose 10 feet rapidly from the storms. That created mudslides and flood warnings. Just northeast of Paradise, mandatory evacuations were put in place

PG&E Files for Bankruptcy

California’s fire agency, Cal Fire, determined that Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation’s equipment had sparked 17 wildfires. All were across northern California in 2017.

That opened the door for a number of lawsuits. PG&E responded by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The estimated amount owed by PG&E is $30 billion. And that does not include potential punitive damages, fines, penalties and other future damages.

PG&E is currently looking into getting rid of a number of real estate assets. That’s in anticipation of being held responsible for so much damage over the past few years. In 2015, they were fined $1.6 billion for a deadly pipeline blast in California.

Shutdown Causes Trouble in Paradise

Back in Paradise, the partial government shutdown is creating delays in infrastructure projects. The town is trying to rebound from devastation caused by the Camp Fire.

A group called 3CORE is aiding recovery planning for the town. They’ve been waiting for a month to apply for disaster grants from the Economic Development Administration.

But the Department of Commerce is mostly closed, like other federal agencies. So, nothing can get done.

And Paradise residents are becoming impatient. Some say if they don’t see recovery moving along soon, they’ll move out.

As we’ve seen, wildfires can create plenty of damage even after they are put out. The first spark is only the beginning of the problems.

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