California wildfire victims sue utility alleging negligence

California wildfire victims sue utility alleging negligence
Angels were here to watch us: Man and his mother survive California wildfire
The wildfire situation in California is now the deadliest in the state's history, with at least 50 people killed, more than 100 missing or unaccounted for and the town of Paradise almost entirely destroyed.

But the footage coming out of affected communities tells an unexpected story, says a U.S. fire expert — one that could have lessons for wildfire prevention measures.

Jack Cohen, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist, focuses his research on investigating how homes ignite during extreme wildfires and how fires move through communities. 

He says fireproofing individual homes may be the most critical part of preventing the spread of wildfires.

Food Network star Guy Fieri made headlines by feeding emergency workers battling the Camp Fire on Sunday, following the lead of a number of restaurants in the area giving out free meals. This wasnt Fieris first time cooking for police and firefighters. In mid-October, his team set up a makeshift kitchen outside a Veterans Memorial Building where he reportedly served 5,000 people a day. This time, he cooked a series of surprise meals for first responders and teamed up with fellow celebrity chef José Andrés to cook 1,000 meals over the weekend. Food Networks Tyler Florence (The Food Truck Race) also joined in on the action. Celebrities with less official culinary expertise followed suit, like Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, who barbecued for firefighters in Calabasas on Monday night.

"Our perception is that this wall of fire comes through and destroys everything, and yet what I'm seeing is that there couldn't have been a wall of fire," Cohen told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Some of the attention comes from pop culture fascination. For example, the Paramount Ranch burned to the ground last week, destroying an iconic movie set where shows like Westworld and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman were filmed. Suspenseful footage of fires rolling toward Hollywood mansions also drew the dark fascination of Americans in other parts of the country, who may not normally follow the regions long battle with drought and wildfires. The Woolsey and Camp fires also drew louder-than-usual celebrity backlash to the presidents off-putting comments about the catastrophe. But beyond raising awareness and fundraising on social media, many celebrities have pitched in IRL as well, bringing forward new questions about the best ways they can leverage their talents and capital.

"The thing that would have carried the wall of fire is still there: The trees are still there and the structures are destroyed."

Instead of a wall of flames descending, burning embers blow downwind and ignite many spot fires over a wide area.

That's also why, from the photos coming out of the damaged communities, it looks almost as though there were hundreds of individual house fires rather than one fire sweeping through the entire town.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West got flack for reportedly hiring private firefighters to protect their $60 million home, drawing attention to the fact that the wealthy can afford to opt out of climate chaos while normal people get screwed. The power couple did earn the praise of some of their wealthy neighbors, however, who told TMZ the hired firefighters saved their homes, as well.

Removing clutter around homes that could become combustible is crucial, he said, and making sure there is nothing touching a structure that could ignite it. 

“Strike team I have a firefighter with smoke inhalation," first responders said. "Transporting to Oroville hospital. We are about to get overrun here. We have got probably a thousand vehicles in here. Once the fire hits, we are going to pull the people out and put them in vehicles.”

"We make sure that we have no debris on the structure. We make sure that nothing can burn … within the first metre to metre-and-a-half [of the house]," he said. 

“They are trapped in Hoffman Road with multiple residences taking refuge in a creek,” the dispatch audio said. “Reports of possible entrapment. They can not evacuate because of fire.”

"Don't just look at destroyed structures," Cohen said. "Look at the area around the destroyed structures and what you see is unconsumed vegetation."

“This has got potential for a major incident,” a firefighter said. “Gonna have Engine 26 go down into Pulga and evacuate it.”

Instead, he suggested, keep a 30 metre buffer around buildings by clearing debris and surface fuels like old firewood, twigs and dried grasses. 

The fire started early in the morning last Thursday and quickly exploded in size. Throughout that first day, firefighting resources poured into the area.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

More than 7,000 buildings were destroyed by the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in Californias history. Many of the 52,000 residents forced to flee will not have anything left to come back to.

And we are learning more about the heroism of first responders who moved quickly to save lives in the early hours of the fire.

Instead of fleeing the blaze, Weldon and his mother chose to stay, and somehow they survived along with their home.

It took the better part of the day before the majority of people were able to reach safety. Some neighbors didn't make it.

My mom said, Nuh-uh, I aint leaving. Shes 90 years old and blind, Weldon told CTV News. She said, I aint going anywhere. Leave me here, Ill burn up.

The deadly Tubbs Fire was the most destructive in state history until the Camp Fire roared to life early Nov. 8, 2018, among the pine forests and steep granite walls of the Feather River Canyon. Within three hours, it had blackened 3,000 acres and went on to wipe out nearly the entire town of Paradise. Cal Fires Wednesday report revealed the fire was 35 percent contained and had blackened 135,000 acres.

Refusing to leave her behind, Weldon got to work hosing down the home, trying to save their property and their lives.

In both events, strong winds out of the north and northeast threw flames across landscapes starved for rain. The fires exploded in darkness, devouring entire neighborhoods, taking lives and leading tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes. At their height, both fires moved at remarkable speeds of about two to three miles of spread per hour.

He says he didnt even have time to think, working as he watched the fire coming through the trees towards the house.

At moments, the flames came so close that Weldon laid down on the ground and turned the hose on himself – just hoping that the water would be enough to keep him alive.

“The Camp Fire burned in more of a classic timber model,” says Cal Fire spokesperson John Cox. “Thats not precisely what was in Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa was more oak woodland with some brush. But they both burned downhill with winds driving them. The Tubbs burned up and over the mountain range and the Camp Fire burned down the canyon.”

Weldon says that with a change of wind, and angels here to watch us, he and his mother escaped death.

“The whole town got steamrolled,” he says. “Thats a rare event. If you look at the urban interface conflagrations, they usually assault on a city and peter out like in Oakland and in Bell Air, but this one was hit the town mid-rib, flanked around it and then by contagion the whole town burned up.”

The fire has killed at least 50 people. More than 100 others are missing — all of them from Paradise.

“This is my fourth trip to California. Every trip has been a forest fire,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was in Paradise with Gov. Jerry Brown, on Wednesday. “Each trip I say this is the worst fire Ive seen, and now were here today and this is the worst fire I have seen.”

Although Weldon and his mother no longer have water or electricity, Weldon says hes rigged up a pump to supply the house with water from their swimming pool.

While theres still work to be done to fix their home, Weldon already has his sights set on a bigger project – rebuilding Paradise.

This is a beautiful community, Weldon said. People are very strong, very loving. And well put it back together.

Brad Weldon looks over the destruction the Camp wildfire caused near his home in Paradise, California.

Weldons home is one of the only buildings still standing, after he wetted the house to protect it from the fire.