PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter in 2018 wildfire deaths

June 18, 2020 by  
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Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pled guilty this week to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawful fire starting, admitting its faulty power lines began a horrendous 2018  wildfire . Dubbed the Camp Fire, the blaze in question started in Butte County,  California  on November 8, 2018. The fire killed at least 84 people, destroyed about 18,000 buildings and devastated the town of Paradise, making it California’s most destructive wildfire ever. Related: Climate change heightens California’s drought and wildfire risks Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read out the names of people who’d died in the fire one by one as their photos flashed on a screen. After each charge, PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson said, “Guilty, your honor.” “Our equipment started that fire,” Johnson admitted. A year-long investigation led by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey determined that PG&E’s outdated equipment caused the 2018 fire. The brutal grand jury report concluded the  utility  company ignored repeated warnings about old, poorly maintained power lines that failed to adhere to state regulations, showing a “callous disregard” for people’s lives and property. PG&E’s plea is part of an agreement with Butte County prosecutors to avoid further criminal proceedings against the utility company. The plea deal includes pledging billions to improve safety and assist Camp Fire victims and accepting closer oversight. The company will pay $3.5 million in fines and a half million in costs. PG&E will also put $15 million towards water for residents, as the Camp Fire destroyed Miocene Canal, one of the area’s vital water sources. “I am here today on behalf of the 23,000 men and women of PG&E, to accept responsibility for the fire here that took so many lives and changed these communities forever,” Johnson said in a written statement. In January 2019, wildfires drove PG&E to file for bankruptcy. The utility has paid out tens of billions in victim settlements and lost billions more in damaged equipment during 2015, 2017 and 2018 wildfires. PG&E has agreed to skip paying out shareholder dividends for three years, which will save about $4 billion. Ramsey said this is the first time any major utility has been charged with homicide stemming from a reckless fire. Still, he is not satisfied with the fine and thinks PG&E should pay much more for the  deaths  and damage that Camp Fire caused. + NPR Image via Pexels

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Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

January 6, 2020 by  
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Record-breaking wildfires have ravaged millions of Australian acres for many months now. Ecologists estimate upward of 480 million mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects have died, as well as more than 8,000 koalas from New South Wales, equating to over 30% of the region’s entire koala population. Figures continue to rise as the fires rage on. Heat from the fires has driven many animals, such as kangaroos, to flee. But not all can escape, exemplified by flightless endemic birds unable to venture far from the ground. The plight is worse for koalas, already a vulnerable species experiencing significant habitat loss . Koalas are slow-moving by nature, incapable of escaping highly flammable eucalyptus trees. The flames will need to subside further before their losses can be fully assessed. Related: Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save koalas from Australian bushfires Other species have been devastated as well. Insects, vital to pollination and nutrient cycles, have suffered massively. Many rare plants are also feared to be entirely decimated, with no chance of recovery for their species. These staggering losses jeopardize species populations and ecosystems in Australia. Environmental activists are consequently sounding alarms on climate change , demanding halts to logging and coal use due to their exacerbation of wildfire conditions. “The compelling issue here is climate change. Yes, Australia is burning, and national parks and our native animals are being decimated,” said Clover Moore, mayor of Sydney. “As the driest continent on Earth, we’re at the forefront of accelerating global warming . What is happening is a wake-up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions.” Various animal care facilities are struggling to help the surviving animals. Eventually, once they have healed, these animals still need to return to their natural habitats. The surviving animals may have trouble finding food and shelter in the blazes’ aftermath. “We’re getting a lot of lessons out of this, and it’s just showing how unprepared we are,” said Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, to the Australian parliament during an urgent December hearing regarding the koala population. “There’s no procedures or protocols in place — even wildlife carers don’t have protocols for when they can go in after the fire.” Typically, wildlife authorities advise against feeding wild animals . But the ravaging wildfires have prompted a message change — people are now encouraged to provide crucial food and water to wildlife in affected areas. Lands affected range from at least 8.9 million acres in New South Wales, 2.9 million acres in Western Australia, 1.8 million acres in Victoria, 618,000 acres in Queensland and 250,000 acres in South Australia. Via HuffPost Image via Simon Rumi

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Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires

Wildfires and drought cause national forest closures in New Mexico and Colorado

June 13, 2018 by  
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Blazes in Colorado closed the 1.8-million-acre San Juan National Forest this week. The 416 Fire is burning on 25,900 acres and is 15 percent contained, according to a June 13 Facebook post . Meanwhile, in New Mexico , the 1.6-million-acre Santa Fe National Forest was closed “due to extreme fire danger.”  NPR quoted San Juan National Forest Fire Staff Officer Richard Bustamante as saying fire risks are at “historic levels.” The San Juan National Forest spans across nine counties, and the last full closure was in 2002. The forest order , signed by forest supervisor Kara Chadwick, says the purpose “is to protect natural resources and public safety due to the impacts of the wildland fire.” Related: NASA map shows how climate change has set the world on fire Bustamante said, “Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire or spark could cause a catastrophic wildfire , and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care, or with human life and property.” The residents of more than 2,000 homes were told to evacuate; a June 12 night update said the evacuation order for San Juan County residents would lift this morning, although people would require Rapid Tag resident credentials to return. At the time of writing, no structures have been destroyed, and 1,029 people are working the fire. The Burro Fire is also burning in the San Juan National Forest on 2,684 acres (as of last night) and is zero percent contained. The cause for both fires is under investigation. In New Mexico, some districts of the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands will be closed effective Friday. “The Cibola is a high-use forest, so this is not a decision that we made lightly,” said Fire Staff Officer Matt Rau. “The forest is tinder dry and the monsoons may still be a few weeks out. We need to take every action possible to reduce the risk of human-caused fires.” Via NPR Image via Depositphotos

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Wildfires and drought cause national forest closures in New Mexico and Colorado

Wildfires in Siberia are emitting enough carbon to harm the entire planet

May 16, 2018 by  
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Wildfires are raging in Russia and Siberia , and they could have drastic consequences for the entire planet. Blazes burning in the Amur region since the start of 2018 have damaged an area around six times bigger than during the same time period in 2017, according to Greenpeace — and they have released nearly twice the annual carbon emissions of Moscow in a single month. This spring, dry, warm conditions in Siberia have readied the area for wildfires, according to Earther — and in May, the fires have picked up in a big way. Local farmers sometimes light fires in Siberia to replenish soil nutrients or clear land, but winds can cause the fires to blaze out of control. And more of the #AmurOblast wildfires? #Russia ?? 09 May 2018 #Copernicus #Sentinel -2B?? Album with even more and full-size images here: https://t.co/j0NIs2BNuS #wildfire #????????????????? pic.twitter.com/ddvP1jdKTE — Pierre Markuse (@Pierre_Markuse) May 12, 2018 Related: NASA map shows how climate change has set the world on fire Following a winter with little snow and strong winds, areas in Siberia that were forests just a few decades ago have succumbed to intense wildfires. And these out-of-control fires aren’t just bad news for locals, but for people all over the Earth: experts estimate that the Amur fire has released around 110 megatons of carbon dioxide . According to Greenpeace, “Each wildfire heats up the planet. At the scale we’re seeing in Amur, that’s a large amount of CO2, and a major setback in efforts to meet Paris Climate Agreement goals.” Soot from the wildfires also doesn’t bode well for the planet. Wind can carry black carbon to Arctic ice and snow, impairing their reflective properties, which “increases the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the surface” and “accelerates the melting of snow and ice,” Greenpeace said. Humans are responsible for as much as 90 percent of wildfires — but this means they can also prevent them, by taking steps like completely extinguishing cigarettes or bonfires and never leaving fires unattended. Via Greenpeace and Earther Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Wildfires in Siberia are emitting enough carbon to harm the entire planet

Birds called ‘firehawk raptors’ are intentionally spreading fires in Australia

January 10, 2018 by  
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When you think of causes of fire in Australia , you might think of lightning or arsonists – but you probably don’t think of birds . But at least three birds of prey species spread wildfires in Australia, according to a new paper incorporating indigenous knowledge. Penn State University geographer and lead author Mark Bonta told National Geographic , “We’re not discovering anything. Most of the data that we’ve worked with is collaborative with Aboriginal peoples…They’ve known this for probably 40,000 years or more.” ‘Firehawk raptors’ – the Black Kite ( Milvus migrans ), Brown Falcon ( Falco berigora ), and Whistling Kite ( Haliastur sphenurus ) – spread fire by carrying burning sticks in their beaks or talons. They can transport fiery sticks up to around one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, away, staring fires where the flames haven’t yet burned. And while indigenous people have known about this behavior for a long time, this new study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology late last year documenting the knowledge and around six years of ethno-ornithological research could help overcome what the paper abstract described as “official skepticism about the reality of avian fire-spreading.” Related: Carnivorous marsupial alive and well after being presumed extinct for 100 years “Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia,” Bonta et al. Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(4) (abstract): https://t.co/JJVomc5zDy #ethnobiology #ethnoornithology #birds #fire pic.twitter.com/Bv4oSA6BpC — Bob Gosford (@bgosford) January 1, 2018 Why would these birds of prey set fires? According to National Geographic, the blazes could help them find food as small animals and insects attempt to escape the fire. Co-author Bob Gosford told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2016, “Black kites and brown falcons come to these fronts because it is just literally a killing frenzy. It’s a feeding frenzy, because out of these grasslands come small birds, lizards, insects, everything fleeing the front of the fire.” And it’s important to dispel skepticism so officials could better plan land management and restoration. The researchers hope their paper will help with fire ecology and fire management that takes into account these fire-spreading birds. Via ScienceAlert and National Geographic Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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Birds called ‘firehawk raptors’ are intentionally spreading fires in Australia

South Australia to host world’s largest thermal solar plant

January 10, 2018 by  
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In South Australia , California-based SolarReserve is building what will be the world’s largest thermal solar plant. The $650 million, 150 megawatt solar plant has received state development approval and construction on the project will begin in 2018. “It’s fantastic that SolarReserve has received development approval to move forward with this world-leading project that will deliver clean, dispatchable renewable energy to supply our electrified rail, hospitals and schools,” South Australia’s acting energy minister Chris Picton told the Sydney Morning Herald . When fully operational, the plant will provide electricity for 90,000 homes and generate 500-gigawatts of energy each year. The South Australia solar thermal plant will feature a single tower that stands at the center of a vast field of solar mirrors, also known as heliostats. These mirrors reflect the sun’s rays onto the tower, which incorporates molten salt batteries to store the energy. This power can then be released as steam, which powers an electricity-generating turbine. When completed, the plant will mitigate the equivalent of 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Related: The world’s first 100% solar-powered train launches in Australia The plant will be located roughly 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Port Augusta in South Australia, a region which has generated international headlines for its energy developments. In collaboration with Tesla , South Australia now hosts the world’s largest single-unit battery , which is capable of providing power to 30,000 homes. “The state has taken a series of positive steps towards greater energy independence which are really starting to pay off. And it has already met its target of 50 per cent renewable energy almost a decade early,” said Natalie Collard, Clean Energy Council executive general manager, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “South Australia is providing the rest of the country a glimpse of a renewable energy future. Our electricity system is rapidly moving towards one which will be smarter and cleaner, with a range of technologies providing high-tech, reliable, lower-cost power.” Via Sydney Morning Herald Images via Department of Energy

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Tesla’s Buffalo Gigafactory is officially producing solar roof tiles

January 10, 2018 by  
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Tesla had planned to move Solar Roof tile production from their Fremont, California factory to the Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo , New York and it looks like they may have met that goal. The company confirmed in an email they began manufacturing the tiles in December. Tesla is producing its photovoltaic glass tiles in Buffalo. We don’t yet know how many they have made, according to The Buffalo News , but the Solar Roofs are slated to be installed on customer roofs in upcoming months. Over a dozen Tesla employees, including Elon Musk , had the product installed on their houses during a pilot program last year. Related: Tesla aims to ramp up Solar Roof production in Buffalo next year Tesla has said Solar Roofs could cost around 10 to 15 percent less than a regular roof equipped with traditional solar panels . Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Hugh Bromley isn’t so sure. He told Bloomberg he estimates a Tesla roof on a 2,000-square-foot house could cost around $57,000. Meanwhile terracotta tiles with a five-kilowatt solar panel system could cost around $41,000, according to Bromley, and an asphalt roof with solar panels would be around $22,000. Tesla began taking orders for their Solar Roofs in May, but didn’t disclose how many they’d received. The Buffalo News said the local region is counting on the Buffalo Gigafactory to bring in around 2,900 new jobs . Tesla said they’d create 1,460 jobs, and other suppliers and service providers could create 1,440 jobs in the region. Tesla says there are around 500 employees at the factory, but didn’t specify how many are working for them and how many for other companies like Panasonic , with whom Tesla is collaborating on solar products in Buffalo. According to The Buffalo News, Panasonic began manufacturing solar panels last summer at the site, and had said their workforce would top 300 there by the end of 2017, with plans to add 60 people during the spring. Via Bloomberg , The Buffalo News , and Reuters Images via Tesla

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Tesla’s Buffalo Gigafactory is officially producing solar roof tiles

VIDEO: Man saves rabbit from raging California fire

December 8, 2017 by  
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Fires continue to ravage Southern California . While the Thomas Fire rages in Ventura County, one man was captured on video rescuing a wild rabbit hopping near Highway 1 in La Conchita. As the animal jumped near the flames, the man followed until he was able to pick it up and carry it away. Local outlet KABC reported a news photographer captured the scene on video on Wednesday. A man pulled over and appeared to be panicking as a wild rabbit hopped near flames. The man managed to catch the animal and held it in his arms as the blaze burned close to the freeway. The man declined an interview, but KABC reported he risked his life to save the rabbit. Related: Out of control wildfires force thousands to flee their homes in Southern California The unnamed man has been hailed as a hero, but some people are questioning whether or not he made the right choice. California Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Peter Tira told SFGate , “Fire is something animals have to deal with constantly. If you encounter a wild animal in your neighborhood, leave it alone. Fire or no fire, just let the animals be.” Small animals are generally good at handling fires, according to Live Science . A rabbit that hasn’t fled a blaze might have a good reason for being there – like saving its young, according to researcher E.V. Komarek, who once observed a cotton rat run to the edge of the flames of a controlled burn to herd juveniles away. It doesn’t appear there are similar direct reports of rabbits behaving similarly, but researchers have noted cottontail rabbits are good at surviving wildfires with their young. Desert cottontail rabbits are common in Southern California, although we don’t know the species of the rabbit in the video. We also don’t know for sure why the rabbit was in the area. Live Science staff writer Rafi Letzter suggests “if you see a wild animal moving around near a fire, the best thing you can do is leave the creature to its business.” On Friday President Donald Trump declared an emergency and ordered federal aid following a request from Governor Jerry Brown. Via KABC , Live Science , SFGate , and The Washington Post Images via ABC7 on YouTube

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VIDEO: Man saves rabbit from raging California fire

US govt scientist denied approval to discuss link between climate change and severe fires

November 1, 2017 by  
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Is the United States government blocking scientists from talking about climate change ? Forest Service research ecologist William Jolly was slated to give a presentation titled “Climate-Induced Variations in Global Severe Fire Weather Conditions” at the International Fire Congress – but was denied approval to go to the conference. And the Environmental Protection Agency recently reportedly blocked three scientists from talking about climate change at a Rhode Island event. Jolly, who works at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Montana, was going to give a 30-minute talk in Florida at the November 28 through December 2 conference hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology (AFE). According to Scientific American , critics are saying Donald Trump’s administration is suppressing the spread of science paid for by taxpayers. The Department of Agriculture , parent agency of the Forest Service, said regional managers mostly determine who will attend conferences based partly on available financial resources, and that political appointees do have the final word but don’t tend to weigh in on which people are chosen. Related: US DOI scientist claims he was reassigned for speaking up on climate change Spokesperson Mike Illenberg said in a statement, “Our front line supervisors and managers weigh a variety of factors including cost, frequency of employee travel, conference location, the number of other employees attending, among other factors in making our business decisions about conference attendance. Based on their recommendations and resource availability, Forest Service leadership gives final approval.” Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Human Dimensions Science Program were also denied travel authorizations – one was Karin Riley, AFE’s board of directors’ vice president, who researches the relationship between wildfires and climate. Three scientists from the United States Geological Survey scheduled to speak about climate change at the wildfire conference are still waiting for a response on their travel requests. Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology executive director Timothy Ingalsbee said, “While the number of acres burned, homes destroyed, civilians killed, and tax dollars spent on suppression are going way up, why is the number of Forest Service scientists and managers meeting at professional science conferences and technical training workshops going way down?” Via Scientific American Images via Bureau of Land Management California on Flickr and Depositphotos

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US govt scientist denied approval to discuss link between climate change and severe fires

Inferno rages through North California, killing at least 10 people

October 10, 2017 by  
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For the past several days, 15 ferocious wildfires have been burning across at least 119,032 acres throughout Northern California . The inferno has claimed the lives of at least 10 people, a number that is expected to grow, and has torched over 1,500 homes and businesses. The scenic Wine Country counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino have been particularly hard hit. After igniting on Sunday night, the fires multiplied quickly due to the pervasive dry conditions in the area and strong winds of up to 50 MPH. In response to the raging flames consuming all in its path, 20,000 people were evacuated, many without much notice, into safer areas. In Sonoma County , the city of Santa Rosa, with a population of 125,000, has suffered serious damage. Seven of the 10 casualties from the wildfires have occurred in Santa Rosa. “That number’s going to change,” said Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano. Given the ongoing search and rescue operation, “it’s just logical,” he said, that more people trapped by the fire will be found. Local landmarks destroyed by the fires include The Fountaingrove Inn and Round Barn, and sections of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. “I’m lucky,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey. “My house is fine. My family is fine. My city is not.” Related: Over 82,000 people evacuated as wildfire engulfs Southern California While Santa Rosa may have endured the most casualties so far, the most powerful fires are burning in Napa County. “I have friends fighting off fires with hoses in the hills, said Alison Crowe, winemaker for Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley. “Thankfully a lot of my friends got out last night.” Although Crowe has not been ordered to evacuate her home in downtown Napa and the main route out of town remains open, she and her neighbors are concerned. “It’s scary,” Crowe said. “We feel surrounded.” Via CNN Images via US Department of Agriculture and Glenn Beltz

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Inferno rages through North California, killing at least 10 people

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