Power company under pressure to explain actions before California wildfire

Some victims of California’s worst-ever wildfire are asking why the state’s largest utility didn’t shut off power in areas that were at high risk. The death toll from the Camp Fireis up to 77, and that number is likely to rise.

Nearly 1,000 other people are unaccounted for. In 11 days, the fire has destroyed more than 10,000 homes north of Sacramento, the state’s capital.

Pacific Gas & Electric said two of its power lines failed in areas where the fire broke out a short time before the first flames were reported. It highlighted one failure the day the fire began but then waited more than a week to report the second until more information was available.

PG&E said the fire forecast did not meet the criteria for a “public safety power shutoff.” The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Some victims of California’s worst-ever wildfire are asking why the state’s largest utility didn’t shut off power in areas that were at high risk. The death toll from the Camp Fire is up to 77, and that number is likely to rise.

Nearly 1,000 other people are unaccounted for. In 11 days, the fire has destroyed more than 10,000 homes north of Sacramento, the state’s capital.

Pacific Gas & Electric said two of its power lines failed in areas where the fire broke out a short time before the first flames were reported. It highlighted one failure the day the fire began but then waited more than a week to report the second until more information was available.

PG&E said the fire forecast did not meet the criteria for a “public safety power shutoff.” The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

California wildfire map

A map shows where two major fires are burning in California.

This map shows where two major fires are burning in California.

 CBS NEWS

Follow California wildfire updates below


  • California wildfires fast facts

    These are the current numbers as of Monday morning from Cal Fire.

    Camp Fire

    • Location: Butte County
    • 151,000 acres burned
    • 66 percent contained
    • 77 fatalities confirmed
    • 993 unaccounted for
    • 12,794 structures destroyed
    • Full containment expected Nov. 30

    Woolsey Fire

    • Location: Los Angeles County, Ventura County
    • 96,949 acres burned
    • 94 percent contained
    • 3 fatalities confirmed
    • 1,500 structures destroyed, 341 damaged
    • Full containment expected Nov. 22
  • Masks in high demand as wildfire affects air quality

    Masks have been flying off the shelves in San Francisco as people try to protect themselves from the thick smoke drifting from the Camp Fire over 150 miles away, CBS San Francisco reports. Some stores were completely sold out.

    “Maybe Monday,” read a sign at Fredericksen Hardware & Paint. Store employees told CBS San Francisco that new masks will be sold behind the counter and customers will likely be limited in how many they can buy.

    Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of thousands of compounds: Chemicals, gases and tiny particles that can be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports. When properly fitted, only the right kind of masks, called N95 or P100, can provide some protection.

    There are potential downsides, LaPook reports. Masks can increase the work of breathing and might encourage people to do more outdoor activity, which can worsen exposure.

  • Rain could hinder search for Camp Fire victims

    The search for remains of victims of the Camp Fire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bring relief to firefighters on the front lines. Wearing white coveralls, hard hats and masks, teams of volunteers and search and rescue crews in Paradise and surrounding communities are poking through the smoky debris for fragments of bone before rains can wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste.

    Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek, when the rain is expected.

    Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes where they received tips that someone might have died. But they are also doing a more comprehensive, “door-to-door” and “car-to-car” search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.

  • Fires taking more than physical toll on firefighters

    Wildfires are taking more than just a physical toll on the firefighters battling flames across California, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan reports. Ben Holliday and Joshua Wilkins have been moving from fire to fire since June.

    Both men are from Butte County, where the Camp Fire has devastated their community. “This is our home,” Holliday said. “We both, everyone on our task force that we’re on has family here, houses gone and whatnot, so, yeah, this one definitely hit home more than any fire I’ve ever been on, hands down.”

    Cal Fire Capt. Joe Chavez helped his wife and two young daughters evacuate before watching his home burn down in Paradise.

    “That was definitely hard to watch, and there’s still a lot of feelings I need to deal with with that,” Chavez said. “I’m just glad to have my family whole because there’s a lot of families out there that are not whole right now. There’s a lot of people that still haven’t been found … Knowing that there are people out there that don’t have a family anymore, that hurts.”

  • Vigil held in Chico, California, for wildfire victims

    181118-cbsnews-paradise-vigil-01.png

    A vigil was held for victims of the deadly Camp Fire on Sun., Nov. 18, 2018.

     CITY OF PARADISE, CALIFORNIA

    The town of Paradise, California, held a vigil Sunday night to remember the dozens who died in the wildfire that swept through the region.

    The vigil at First Christian Church in Chico was a time for residents to quietly reflect, pray, bring photos or momentos of lost friends, family and pets and was a chance to seek help from counselors and mental health experts.

    A sign at the vigil read: “We will rise from the ashes” and two hashtags: #paradisestrong #buttecountystorng

    People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders: “We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now.”

    181118-cbsnews-paradise-vigil-03.png

    A vigil was held for victims of the deadly Camp Fire on Sun., Nov. 18, 2018.

     CITY OF PARADISE, CALIFORNIA
  • Calif. governor says Trump promised he won’t cut wildfire funding

    California Gov. Jerry Brown said President Trump assured him he will not cut federal funding to California to deal with the state’s deadly wildfires in what the governor called a “big, big win.”

    On Saturday, Brown and the president toured damage from the Camp Fire that killed dozens of people, with nearly 1,300 more still unaccounted for. The governor also said economic impact of the fires will be “tens of billions” of dollars.

    “The president not only has signed a presidential declaration giving California substantial funding, but he said and pledged very specifically to continue to help us, that he’s got our back,” Brown said on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “And I thought that was a very positive thing.”

  • Trump visits Malibu

    In Malibu, President Trump visited a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean where houses once stood and palm trees stand scorched, signs of the intense fires. Mr. Trump praised local officials, first responders and military assistance, and he said permits to rebuild will be expedited.

    Standing alongside Mr. Trump, California Gov. Jerry Brown says officials will need to assess all the information available about wildfires in planning for the future. The state’s governor-elect, Gavin Newsom, says people have had enough and the problem needs to be dealt with head-on.

  • ​Trump says destruction hasn’t changed his mind on climate change

    President Trump visited the devastation in Paradise, California, after a deadly wildfire nearly leveled the entire community. Mr. Trump declined to say whether climate change directly impacted the fires, saying there were “a lot of factors.”

    In October, he told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” he no longer considers climate change a hoax, but said he doesn’t believe it is manmade.

    Mr. Trump on Saturday called the wildfire a “really bad one” and said “hopefully” it would be the last. “I think everybody’s seen the light, and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent,” he said.

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