Firefighters in California Working to Contain Large Wildfire

California’s weather moderated after a long siege of extreme heat but firefighters still faced the difficult task of trying to contain a large forest fire in rugged coastal mountains south of Big Sur.

The Willow Fire covered 4.4 square miles of Los Padres National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service said. More than 500 firefighters were on the lines, aided by planes and helicopters.

The fire broke out Thursday evening in the Ventana Wilderness and burned near the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a Buddhist monastery located in a remote valley.

Californians Warned to Prepare for Brutal Heatwave, Fire Risk

A heatwave already punishing parts of the U.S. Southwest on Monday was expected to move into California this week, prompting the forecasters to warn of health and fire dangers.

A high-pressure ridge that built over southwestern deserts over the past few days is responsible for the unusually blistering heat this early in the year, National Weather Service meteorologist Karleisa Rogacheski said.

“Today last day of seasonable weather in California,” Rogacheski said.

California saw balmy weather on Monday, with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s Fahrenheit (30-35°C), but forecasts called for warming on Tuesday, spiking into the triple digits by Thursday and lasting several days.

California Seeing More Wildfires as Drought Intensifies

As California sinks deeper into drought it already has had more than 900 additional wildfires than at this point in 2020, which was a record-breaking year that saw more than 4% of the state’s land scorched by flames.

The danger prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to propose spending a record $2 billion on wildfire mitigation. That’s double what he had proposed in January.

“Clearly we recognize we need to step up our efforts here in the state of California and that’s what we began to do early this year,” he said Monday.

Western U.S. Wildfires Have Made Insurance for Contractors a Tough Buy

Things look bad with California’s ever-sooner wildfire season seemingly approaching and what’s shaping up to be a severe drought across the Western U.S.

The plague of wildfires in the past few years in California have made things tough for residents and businesses, and in the last few years, larger and more frequent wildfires have been particularly bad for utilities.

One business segment that’s getting some bad breaks are contractors that work for utilities or that work in wildfire-prone areas.

Judge Weighs Whether PG&E Violated Probation With 2019 California Fire

A federal judge is weighing whether Pacific Gas & Electric violated its criminal probation by sparking a wildfire north of San Francisco that destroyed more than 100 homes and injured six firefighters in October 2019.

Prosecutors and attorneys for PG&E appeared at a hearing Tuesday before U.S. District Judge William Alsup, a month after the Sonoma County district attorney charged the company with five felony and 28 misdemeanor counts for a fire that destroyed 374 buildings and launched the largest evacuation in the county’s history, with nearly 100,000 people forced to flee.

California Toughens PG&E Wildfire Safety Oversight

California officials on Thursday voted to toughen oversight of Pacific Gas & Electric, saying the utility had largely failed to perform required tree-trimming work near power lines in areas with the highest risk of wildfires.

The unanimous vote by the California Public Utilities Commission comes as the fire-prone state has stepped up scrutiny of utility efforts to mitigate wildfire risk. Climate change is fueling increasingly frequent and intense blazes in the state that are often ignited by power infrastructure.

California Plans $536M for Wildfire Mitigation Before Fire Season

California will authorize $536 million for wildfire mitigation and forest management projects before the worst of the fire season strikes later this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders said.

That more than doubles $200 million in recent annual spending, advocates said, and wildfire preparedness grants were dropped entirely last year when the state prematurely anticipated a pandemic-driven budget shortfall.

Armed now with an unexpected multi-billion-dollar surplus, lawmakers plan to add the money to this fiscal year’s budget before considering even more in the new spending plan that takes effect July 1.

Three Dozen California Bills Focus on Wildfire, Others Are Concerning for Insurance Industry

Roughly three dozen pieces of California legislation are directly related to wildfire, and while those bills should hold much interest for the insurance community, there are other bills making their rounds that should draw a great deal of concern.

So far 2,369 bills have been introduced in state Legislature this year, according to John Norwood of Norwood Associates, an industry lobbyist who also represents the California Insurance Wholesalers Association.

Norwood said he’s by encouraged by all the attention California’s wildfires are getting.

Judge Considering Requiring PG&E in California to Turn off Power More Often

A federal judge overseeing Pacific Gas & Electric’s criminal probation said Tuesday that he is considering requiring the utility to be more aggressive about turning off its electricity lines near tall trees, a plan that could double the number of power outages for some Northern California counties over the next decade.

The proposal outlined during a two-hour court hearing is the latest effort to prevent the utility’s equipment from sparking more deadly wildfires by reducing the likelihood that trees could fall into the utility’s long-neglected electrical equipment. U.S. District Judge William Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s safety precautions as part of the utility’s criminal probation after its natural gas lines blew up a suburban neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

California Wildfire Sparked When Tree Hit Power Line, Report Shows

A Northern California wildfire that killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings last year was sparked when tree branches came into contact with Pacific Gas & Electric power lines, officials said in a report.

Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection seized equipment belonging to PG&E in the weeks after the Zogg Fire tore through rural communities in Shasta and Tehama counties last September and October.

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