PG&E loses gambit to avoid California’s inverse condemnation rules

Nov. 27, 2019: “Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s bankruptcy judge has rejected the utility’s attempt to reduce its liability for the 2017 and 2018 wildfires by circumventing a tough California legal doctrine.” Continue reading on www.sfchronicle.com

Paradise Residents Still Can’t Drink the Water

Sep. 30, 2019: “Since last November, when the Camp Fire almost completely destroyed the town of Paradise, the cancer-causing chemical benzene has tainted the town’s water, leaving it undrinkable. Now an independent team of scientists will begin testing for the carcinogen and other pollutants inside the houses that the fire left standing.” Continue reading on www.kqed.org

New data shows surge in home prices following Camp Fire

Oct. 2, 2019: “The anniversary of the Camp Fire is less than a month away and now, new data reveals just how much average home prices went up since the fire.” Continue reading on www.abc10.com

Access to health care was already difficult before the Camp Fire, according to new assessment

Sep. 20, 2019: “Laurie Heer injured her shoulder when her dog panicked while they evacuated during the Camp Fire. But she couldn’t find her Paradise doctor to prescribe her pain medication and get her on the path for surgery for several months. Now she’s struggling to pay for gas to drive from Lime Saddle Campground, where she’s temporarily living, to Chico every week for appointments with a physical therapist and a psychiatrist. Her dentist has a seemingly interminable waitlist.” Continue reading on www.paradisepost.com

Camp Fire victims are being shorted, an unlikely duo has teamed up for a hostile company takeover, and a whole lot of people wondering what’s going on with the PG & E settlement. 

To untangle the mess, this article will go over what’s going on, when things happened, and we will also do our best to explain why they happened.

Starting off, let’s talk about the claim amounts.

  • Victims claim PG & E owes $54 billion.
  • PG & E claims that it could only owe $30 billion.
  • The September 9th Plan offers $17.9 billion.
  • To date, they have negotiated $12 billion in settlements, with $11 billion going to insurance companies and $1 billion going to government entities.
  • They’re trying to settle the rest, with the victims, for $8.4 billion.

Next, there are 3 major “groups” involved with the PG & E lawsuit.

  1. You have the insurance companies who have paid out to the victims.
  2. You have individual parties with individual claims against PG & E.
  3. You have a wildfire group that has teamed up with hedge funds in order to stage a hostile takeover of PG & E.

Now we’ll talk about the events and how the developed.

September 9: The chaos started with PG & E unveiling their plans for a company reorganization that would pay out $17.9 billion – slightly over half of the initial amount of claims. $8.4 billion would be for wildfire victims, $8.5 billion for insurance companies, and $1 billion for local government entities.

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see why both insurance companies and individual plaintiffs were upset – the compensation was just too little compared to the damages. 

September 13th: PG & E announces an $11 billion settlement with insurance groups. This settlement is the second , with the first one being $1 billion to government entities, and is for an insurance group that represents around 85% of the claims for the both the Butte County Camp Fire of 2018 and the Northern California fires of 2017.

While some are happy, others aren’t. In a statement from the Ad Hoc Subrogation Group, they’re expecting this initial settlement to “pave the way for a plan of reorganization that allows PG & E to fairly compensate all victims and emerge from the Chapter 11 by the June 2020 legislative deadline”.

With the individual victims, all parties were outraged. According to California law, the victims are to be compensated first, and attorneys feel that PG & E is instead putting insurance companies ahead of the victims. with the settlement and the plan.

Attorneys are now furiously battling in the bankruptcy courts as the deal will require sign off from US Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali.

These series of events then leads us to third major development, the hostile takeover of PG & E. For those who aren’t familiar, a hostile takeover is when “Company A” goes directly to the shareholders of “Company B” in order to buy enough shares to take over “Company B”. What makes it hostile is that “Company B” does not want this to happen.

In this case, the various wildfire victims that felt shorted, joined forces with Wall-street hedge funds in an attempt to takeover PG & E and plan out a more fair settlement that would include $24 billion to a trust responsible for paying off the wildfire liabilities. The payout would be a mix of both cash and PG & E stock.

The stakes are higher than ever as victims of the wildfires are running out of time to get their claims in. If you or someone you know were a victim to the Butte County Camp Fires or the Nor Cal wildfires, please contact our award winning attorneys immediately for a free consultation at 833-200-7111. Once again, time is running out and there are only days left. Do not hesitate.

The Conception Dive Boat Fire Lawsuit

On September 2nd, 2019, California suffered one of the worst maritime recreational disasters in history. Truth Aquatics sent out their dive boat, the Conception, for what was supposed to be another normal dive trip. However, off the coast of Santa Cruz island, the Conception, the divers, and the crew, were struck by an unexpected fire. The 33 passengers and 1 crew member beneath the deck did not survive.

Having helped over 300 fire victims across California, the question that the Scuba Diving Certified attorneys at WJKA are trying to answer include: who is at fault, why did this happen and did people really have to die? 

Just because a boat fire happened, does not mean that people had to die. There are supposed to be safety checks in place to prevent this from happening.

We are investigating the origins of the fire and what was responsible for the death of the passengers. Was it gas? Was it fire? Was it the blast from an explosion?

And what caused the fire? Was it a gas leak coupled with an ignition point? Was the Conception equipped to detect a gas leak? Should the boat have been equipped with leak detection systems? 

The attorneys at Wagner and Jones are looking at all of the possible factors:

  1. What caused the fire?
  2. How did the fire spread so quickly?
  3. Were the crew members trained on what to do in case of an emergency?
  4. Were the passengers trained on how to handle emergencies?
  5. Did the poor layout of the boat contribute to the death of the passengers?
  6. Were the emergency exits obstructed?
  7. Were electrical systems involved?
  8. Were the fire alarms properly maintained?
  9. Were there unsecured flammable objects present to accelerate the fire?
  10. Was the emergency lighting system properly maintained?

Truth Aquatics Trying to Evade the Conception Dive Boat Fire Lawsuit

Truth Aquatics, in an effort to walk away with minimal losses, filed a lawsuit with the U.S District Court in LA using an antiquated maritime law from 1851. If successful, this law may limit Truth Aquatic’s liability. Due to this filing, families and victims now have limited time to bring forth their cases.

The Scuba Diving certified attorneys of Wagner and Jones believe there’s a strong case for negligence and that there is a way around the antiquated maritime law.

A Personal Message From Our Attorneys

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most trying times of your life. When your family member’s death was caused by another party’s negligence or wrongdoing, the grieving process only intensifies. You may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and receive the closure and financial compensation to which you and your family are entitled.

Wagner, Jones, Kopfman, and Artenian are experienced attorneys who currently represent over 300 fire victims. Our certified scuba diving lawyers will help you through this difficult process. Contact WJKA to receive a free consultation today.

What Happened With the Conception Dive Boat Fire?

The flames erupted early in the morning of Sept 2, 2019. At 3:30 AM, the U.S Coast Guard heard the mayday calls from the conception dive boat. However, by the time they arrived, it was already too late.

The 5 crew members who were above deck when the fire erupted managed to escape. The other 34 members, below and the deck and asleep, did not make it out.

“This is probably the worst-case scenario you can have,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. “It’s a vessel on the open sea in the middle of the night; it’s 3:30 in the morning … The sleeping compartment is on the bottom of the ship and they would be sound asleep … You couldn’t ask for a worse situation.”

How the Surviving Crew Members of The Conception Dive Boat Fire Responded

According to the local Santa Barbara news outlet, Noozhawk, 4 out of 5 of the surviving crew members of the Conception dive boat were administered alcohol tests, which they passed, as well as drug tests. The fifth member was not able to be tested as they were hospitalized.

It is expected that the preliminary report from the crew members will be released on September 14th, detailing their accounts of the events.

According to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the crew members were all cooperative.

The NTSB is collecting and analyzing all documents and resources in regards to the Conception dive boat fire including the inspection history, training procedures and documents, maintenance records, the mayday call recorded by the Cost Guard, and any manuals. Surprisingly, the Conception did not have a sprinkler system in case of a fire because the boat was not big enough to require one.

Wagner Jones, California Boating Accident Lawyer

The attorneys at Wagner and Jones, all scuba-diving certified, are looking into several key areas that could have been the cause of the Conception dive boat fire. These include:

  1. Potential mechanical negligence that sparked the fire.
  2. Potential electrical negligence that sparked the fire.
  3. Improper maintenance of fuel sources.
  4. Proper training of the crew and passengers in case of any emergency.
  5. Potential obstruction of the safety exits. 

The floor plan for the Conception dive boat, provided by Truth Aquatics, shows that there was only 1 staircase exit to the galley from below the deck. If the fire happened near that staircase, then everyone would have been fatally trapped and explains why the crew couldn’t rescue anyone.

According to the schematic, the only systematized fire suppression system was located in the engine room – did this mean, other than by fire extinguisher, that the vessel had no other way of dealing with fires?

To make matters worse, during the NTSB investigation, Jennifer Homendy decided to inspection the Vision, a similar scuba diving boat. What she found was astonishing. With the lights on, only 1 person could have escaped at a time. 

With the lights off, which was the case for the Conception during the fire, she had an extremely difficult time locating the hatch and even harder time finding the light switch. This was only with her team.

Imagining the chaos and panic of 34 people trapped in a flaming boat, in the dark, would have dramatically amplified the difficulty of finding the escape hatch and lights.

According to news sources, both the hatch and the galley staircase were quickly engulfed in flames, preventing the escape of anyone below the deck.

What caused the Conception Dive Boat Fire?

Because investigations are underway, it’s likely that we won’t know the official cause for a few months. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff has teamed up with the NTSB and are investigating the Conception Dive Boat Fire.

However, based on available information, it appears that the “fire” was not a fire, but was instead an explosion. This explains how the flames spread so quickly. 

The Santa Barbara Conception Boat Fire Victims

In order to respect the families of the victims, we will not be publishing the names of the conception boat fire victims on our website. However, CNN has been authorized to share a few of them.

Coverage of the Conception Boat Fire

The Carr Fire Incident

The Carr Fire was one of the large wildfire incidents that occurred in California in 2018. With a burn area that spans Shasta and Trinity Counties, it eventually became the 7th largest wildfire in the state. Carr Fire also became the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history costing a total of $1.66 billion in damages, with $1.5 billion in insured losses recovered thanks to wildfire attorneys and $158 million for the fire control efforts.

During the peak of the fire control efforts, Carr Fire engaged more than 4,700 firefighting personnel from CAL FIRE Shasta-Trinity Unit, US Forest Service and NPS Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The wildfire, which was first reported on July 2018, caused the evacuation of nearly 40,000 people from the city of Redding. People in Summit City Shasta Lake, Igo, Keswick, Lewiston and French Gulch were also evacuated. Carr Fire left eight people dead, three of whom were firefighters, marking the start of a deadly California wildfire season that would culminate with the butte county camp fire.

Carr Fire California

How It Started

The first reports of what would eventually become Carr Fire came it in July 23, 2018 at 1:28 pm. Reports indicate that the ignition point was at the intersection of Carr Powerhouse Road and Highway 299 in the Whiskeytown District of Shasta County. Further investigations revealed that a vehicle that was towing a dual-axle travel trailer accidentally caused the fire. As it reached the intersection, one of the tires of the trailer blew out. The steel rim scraped the pavement and created sparks that jumped on and ignited the dry brush along the side of the highway.

The prevailing hot weather, topography and winds caused the fire to spread rapidly. During the previous week, the weather in Redding reached 113 according the National Weather Service.

The inaccessible terrain and the area’s unusual topography made the containment efforts as difficult for the responding firefighters during the Carr Fire as the ones facing the Potter Valley Fire.  The firefighters scrambled to fortify containment lines with slow progress. Highway 299 was immediately closed and mandatory evacuation started in French Gulch.

Carr Fire Spreads

By July 26, the burn area of Carr Fire grew from 1,500 acres by the day’s end in July 23 to more than 20,000 acres. A huge fire whirl that some experts refer to as a “firenado” developed as Carr Fire razed through Redding City. Reaching a maximum height of 18,000 feet, the firenado inflicted tornado-like damage felling transmission lines, uprooting trees and shredding foliage as it spread more fire along its path.

The burn area further spread to more than 100,000 acres by July 31, something comparable to the Nurse Fire, but the wildfire’s containment was only at 30 percent. Challenging terrain and more dry fuel on the wildfire’s path, along with strong winds made it difficult for firefighters to control the fire. By August 4, the burn area was estimated to have grown to more than 145,000. The eight and last fatality of Carr Fire was reported on August 9 as it grew to more than 178,000 acres.

Aftermath

On the evening of August 30, 2018, just a few weeks before the Eden Fire, officials reported that Carr Fire was 100% contained. The wildfire had left a burn area measuring more than 229,000 acres and razing 1,000 homes, 500 outbuildings and  21 commercial structures to the ground. At the height of Carr Fire, some 55,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Shasta and Trinity counties.

Potter Valley Fire

The Potter Valley Fire, also known as the Mendocino Complex Fire is one of the most notable among the string of massive and destructive wildfires that hit California in 2018, comparable only to the butte county camp fire. It will eventually become the largest wildfire complex in California’s recorded history. A complex fire is a term used to refer to multiple wildfire incidents that are in progress simultaneously in a single general area.

If you or someone you know was affected by a wildfire, then make sure to contact our California wildfire lawyers for a free consultation.

Mendocino Complex Fire

Ranch Fire and River Fire made up the Potter Valley Fire that blazed through the Mendocino, Glenn, Colusa and Lake Counties. Ranch Fire went on to become the largest single wildfire incident in California’s recorded history. It took almost three months for firefighters to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire fully from July 27 to September 18.

What Started the Fire

The Potter Valley Fire, aka Mendocino Complex fire, was ignited in the most unusual and seemingly harmless way when a Potter Valley Rancher tried to plug the opening of an underground yellow jacket nest. According to reports, the rancher was trying to build a shade for his water tank when he accidentally agitated the nest. When the swarm stopped, the rancher tried to plug the opening by hammering a 24-inch concrete stake into it using a claw hammer. This caused the spark that ignited a waist-high cured brush nearby.

Despite the rancher’s several attempts to put out the fire, which included smothering it with dirt and pouring water on it, the fire spread out of control. The mix of dry air, high temperatures and the abundance of cured grassland for fuel,  similar to the Nurse Fire outbreak,  overwhelmed the efforts of the rancher to extinguish the fire.

One hour after the rancher called in to report what will be Ranch Fire, River Fire, and the Potter Valley Fire.

How the Mendocino Complex Fire Progressed

Although firefighters were dispatched to the site of the fire immediately, gusty winds, high heat, and the area’s rugged terrain stymied their attempts to slow down the spread of the two wildfires, which caused the injury to several firefighters overnight. By the next day, the two wildfires were organized as the Mendocino Complex Fire. The complex fire has grown from 5,000 acres to 80,000 acres on July 31.

By August 7, the burn area of the combined wildfires grew to more than 220,000 acres. The wildfires, at this point, have either burned or damaged more than 220 structures. By August 12, firefighters were having more success at containing the much smaller River Fire reporting 93% containment. By the following day, the firefighters were finally able to achieve 100% containment of the River Fire with a burn area of more than 48,000 acres.

Ranch Fire, on the other hand, continued to blaze as firefighters managing to achieve only 63% containment by August 14. At this point, Ranch Fire’s burn area measured some 300,000 acres and will continue to burn on well into September. On September 19, the U.S. Forest Service finally declared the Ranch Fire and the Potter Valley Fire to be 100% contained.

The Aftermath

The Potter Valley Fire left a burn area of nearly 460,000 acres, with Ranch Fire accounting for more than 400,000 acres of it. It destroyed more than 280 structures, 150 of which were homes. Despite its size, the fire caused only $267 million in damages, which is significantly smaller than other wildfires that hit California in 2018. CAL FIRE determined that the cause of the Potter Valley Fire was accidental and no charges were filed against the Potter Valley rancher who set off the largest complex wildfire in the state’s history.

The California Alder Wildfire

Most people view wildfires as deadly no thanks in part to the news media who prefer to highlight those that are frighteningly destructive and deadly. However, there are instances when ecological fire or wildfires are beneficial because of its positive contribution to the ecosystem both within the burn area and its vicinity.

This article will focus on two Alder wildfires. one of which occurred during the destructive and deadly 2018 wildfire season in California. The other Alder wildfire occurred in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest in 2018.

If you know someone who has been a victim to a wildfire, have them contact our California wildfire lawyers for a free consultation.

Alder Fire

California Alder Fire of 2018

The year 2018 saw the most destructive and deadliest season in California’s recorded history. The Potter Valley Fire became the largest wildfire with a burn area of more than 460,000. With more than $16 billion in damages and more than 80 fatalities, the Butte County Camp Fire became the state’s worst wildfire ever.

As these wildfires grabbed the headlines, beneficial wildfires such as the Alder Fire did not get much attention. Unlike the Nurse fire, the Alder fire was caused by a lightning strike on October 4, 2018 at around midnight. The ignition point was five miles north of Camp Nelson in Giant Sequoia National Monument. Two other fires were also ignited within the vicinity of Alder Fire. These were the Mountaineer, half-a-mile east of Alder Fire and Moses Fires, one mile south of Moses Mountain.

Alder Fire, along with Mountaineer and Moses Fires continued to smolder for the next two months. Firefighters were successful in directing the wildfire towards an area with an extensive tree mortality and heavy fuels on the ground. Moses Fire on the other hand, burned through a patch of timber near a rocky area.

By December 17, 2018, all of the fires were declared out. Alder Fire left a burn area of more than 4,600 acres, while Mountaineer and Moses fires burned through 1,270 and 19 acres respectively. These fires burned through an area with heavy fuel loads and standing dead trees called snags. Clearing these types of fuels and hazards, will pave the way for newer growth, limit the fuel for future fires and make future wildfire containment easier for firefighters.

Arizona Alder Fire of 2018

The Alder prescribed fire in 2018 started in a logging area in May 11, 2018 where it quickly spread through a timber pile. Wind drove and pushed the blaze into Ponderosa pine trees and further fueled it with an undergrowth of grass, gamble oak and small aspen. Within 20 minutes, the fire grew from half-an acre to over 20 acres, burning through more trees as fire crews arrived. The firefighters, however, were able to manage and control the fire within a few days and completed mopping up operations on May 14, 2018. The success and ease of managing the Alder Fire of 2018 was attributed to a previously prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads in the area.

These two wildfires are good examples of beneficial wildfires. Such fires are needed to maintain the balance in the ecosystem, mitigate the dangers of future wildfires, and provide firefighters and residents with additional protection.

Eden Fire Incident in Sequioa National Park

The Eden Fire is one of the recorded wildfire incidents in California in 2018., located within Sequioa National Park. Unlike the butte county camp fire, the Eden fire was ignited naturally by lightning on October 4, 2018 as a series of thunderstorms passed through the park during the first week of that month. Like most other wildfire incidents, Eden Fire was named after its ignition point, which is the Eden Creek Grove of giant sequoias.

Do you know someone who was a victim to a wildfire? Have them contact our California wildfire lawyers for a free consultation.

Eden fire

Initial Stages

Eden Fire progressed slowly since it began in the early days of October. By the first week of November, the burn area was estimated to be about five acres. Although the smoke can readily be seen from the Mineral King Road and other elevated areas in the Three Rivers Area, the fire at this point was burning the rugged and steep area of the John Krebs Wilderness. Unlike the Nurse Fire, the Eden Fire wasn’t posing any threats to life or any infrastructure at this stage.

Even though the Eden Fire was already burning for a month, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ Fire Management Program are allowing it to run its course. The park’s fire management experts believed that intervening directly or indirectly would have done more damage to the wilderness than the fire itself. Despite the smoke, the visitor services in the Mineral King sector of the Sequoia National Park remains unaffected, but the Mineral King Road was closed to the public on October 31.

Wild Fire Progress Aftermath

By November 14, 2018, Eden Fire’s burn area had grown to be more than 343 acres, a stark contrast to the 400,000 acres of the Potter Valley Fire. The western edge of the fire slowly crept towards the Eden Creek drainage, but it has established on the east side of the drainage. The park’s fire experts at this point did not see any indication that it was moving southwards to Homer’s Nose. The behavior of Eden Fire remained positive, with its fuel coming mostly from brush, downed tree logs and a few standing dead trees, which are also called “snags.” Since the area has no modern fire history, there are several snags in the area primarily due to natural tree mortality.

Smoke was already visible from the western side of the Sequioa National Park, a dangerous sign of the growing wildfire. Apart from the Eden Fire, some of the visible smoke is from three other brush fires within the park. The Sequoia national Park Fire Management Office maintained that their office take air quality concerns very seriously. However, Eden Fire was allowed to continue on its course since it was burning in designated wilderness. The office did not see the need to intervene with Eden Fire since it was ecologically beneficial and it will be unwise to take away valuable firefighting resources away from more dangerous fires in California.

Aftermath

Eden Fire was finally declared as 100% contained early in December 2018. By then, it has burned through an estimated 1,777 acres of brush, dead logs, snags, mixed conifer and some sequoia trees. Throughout the course of Eden Fire, no suppression efforts were made, which means that no firefighters were placed at risk. The park welcomed the Eden Fire incident as it created a modern fire history in the area, which in turn, will make management of significantly more dangerous fires in hotter months more manageable.

Prior to Eden Fire, the area had over a century of extreme fuel loading. The burn eased the fuel load and significantly reduced the risks and costs that are associated with suppressing future fire incidents in the park. The fire ecologists in Sequoia National Park also believe that the Eden Fire made the area more resilient to climate change and more sustainable.