Cal Fire Details Crew’s Struggle With Dangerous Terrain in Santa Cruz Mountains Wildfire

A blaze that began as a house fire spread into surrounding trees and brush in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Oct. 16. (KTVU via YouTube)

Cal Fire has issued its preliminary review of an October fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was relatively modest in size but caused an unusually high number of firefighter injuries.

The agency’s “green sheet” report on the 391-acre Bear Fire, near Boulder Creek, details one crew’s struggle to combat the blaze in the predawn darkness while contending with extremely rugged terrain that became almost as dangerous as the fire itself.

The five-member hand crew was among the first to battle the blaze off Bear Creek Canyon Road in the early morning hours of Oct. 17. Hours after the suspected arson fire started, the green sheet says, the team found itself facing extreme danger.

As the blaze burned in a precipitous, heavily forested canyon, the crew faced what wildland firefighters call a “rollout”: Burning logs tumbled down the slope toward them, starting small spot fires outside containment lines and forcing them to try to scramble to safety.

As they headed toward a primary escape route, the rollout intensified, so they needed to find another way to a creek bed below them, according to Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jake Hess, the Bear Fire’s incident commander.

But struggling to negotiate the steep terrain in the dark, team members began falling down the canyon.

“The earth literally gave out underneath these firefighters,” Hess said in an interview.

Two firefighters fell 50 feet down to the creek, yelling as they dropped. A third firefighter fell, his head slamming against a rock on the way down. Then two other firefighter slipped and fell.

“Emergency traffic, firefighter down!” a captain radioed, initiating what Cal Fire calls an “incident within an incident” protocol.

The firefighter who hit his head was seriously injured. Two firefighters created a makeshift harness from his chainsaw chaps and other gear.

As they were pulling him back up the canyon, one of the firefighters shielded his hurt comrade from a falling rock, a move that broke his arm. Another firefighter suffered a broken hand as yet another rock fell out.

The firefighter with the worst injury was taken by helicopter to a hospital. A week later Cal Fire reported the injury to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, prompting the agency’s only investigation into a firefighter injury in connection with the dozens of wildfires that broke out around the state in October, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Frank Polizzi.

In all, 13 firefighters were injured battling the Bear Fire, according to authorities. Most of the injuries were minor.

The Bear Fire broke out a week after huge, destructive fires swept Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Butte counties. Those blazes killed 43 people, including one firefighter who died when his water tanker crashed in the hills west of the Napa County town of Yountville.

More than 1,000 firefighters battled the Bear Fire, which in addition to burning 391 acres also destroyed two homes, four outbuildings, five RVs and 17 other vehicles, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Marlon Coy, 54, of Boulder Creek for allegedly setting the fire. He was charged with several arson counts.

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Northern California Fire Scams Worse Than Previously Thought

A home burning in Napa’s Atlas Fire. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Federal officials suspect there have been tens of thousands of fraudulent claims filed for disaster relief following the deadly Northern California fires. That estimate means it’s a much bigger problem than they previously thought.

“It is an awful lot,” said FEMA spokesman Frank Mansell.

A couple of weeks ago FEMA had said fraudulent claims numbered in the thousands.

In some cases, residents have gotten fake mail, phone calls or in-person visits from people claiming to be federal officials.

Officials say the process of vetting claims for disaster relief is thorough, but that people should be prepared to respond if they suspect fraud or identity theft in the wake of the Northern California fires.

Here are common frauds, which you can also find on FEMA’s website.

What you need to know to avoid common types of fraud:

  • Beware of anyone claiming to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the state initiating visits, calls or emails asking for an applicant’s Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information.
  • Avoid scam artists who promise a disaster grant and ask for cash or advance payments in full.
  • Keep in mind federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications.
  • Provide your Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance, either by calling 800-621-3362, TTY 800-462-7585, or going online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or the smartphone FEMA app.
  • If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services, call 800-621-3362. Operators are multilingual and calls are answered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Avoid phony housing inspectors: Owners/applicants may be especially vulnerable to phony housing inspectors claiming to represent FEMA or SBA. An applicant should always:

  • Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. All federal employees and contractors carry official laminated photo identification.
  • Inspectors should also have each applicant’s nine-digit registration number.
  • FEMA inspectors never require banking information.
  • Note that FEMA housing inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They do not determine your eligibility for assistance.

If you aren’t filing for disaster relief but suspect someone is using your identity, contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov.

If you are trying to apply for disaster relief but someone has used your identity to open an application, bring identification such as a driver’s license or utility bill to a local disaster assistance center and notify FEMA officials there, Mansell says. They will help re-register people and issue a new registration number, he said.

Some people are getting home visits by people claiming to be from FEMA. Mansell said FEMA workers will call before coming to inspect properties and if they schedule an appointment, they will offer their government ID. After the application is initiated, FEMA says the process should include interviews and collection of more details before approval.

“There’s a lot more checks and balances,” Mansell says.

Any suspected fraud cases will be forwarded to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said. An official at that agency declined to say how many claims are under investigation.

The deadline to file for disaster relief is Dec. 13.

If you suspect criminal or suspicious activity related to disaster relief or if you received a letter from the U.S. Small Business Administration and you did not apply for disaster relief with FEMA or the SBA, report to the National Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov and contact SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955.

KQED wants to hear your story. Have you experienced a fraudulent claim or potential scam following the North Bay fires? Please email reporter Devin Katayama at dkatayama@kqed.org.

Sukey Lewis contributed to this report.

Utility Judge Proposed Cost Cut for Nuke Closure Could Mean Higher Rates for Customers

 

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

By Associated PressNOVEMBER 12, 2017

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A state judge Wednesday recommended that California’s largest utility be allowed to increase customer rates by nearly $200 million for costs tied to the planned closing of the state’s last operating nuclear plant.

If approved, the plan for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is expected to add a few pennies a month to bills for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers.

The proposed decision by California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Peter V. Allen trimmed tens of millions of dollars from the request from PG&E.

The utility asked for $360 million for employee retention and training, which the judge cut to about $170 million.

The judge also set aside a plan to use $85 million for assistance for local governments, saying it would require legislative authorization.

“The question before this commission is not whether there will be economic impacts, or even the potential size and scope of those impacts, but rather whether PG&E ratepayers should pay to mitigate these impacts,” the judge wrote.

The utility’s proposal stems from a 2016 agreement between PG&E and environmental groups to close Diablo Canyon, located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, by 2025.

The commission could consider the judge’s proposal in December.

PG&E said in a statement it disagreed with the judge’s decision to cut the funds.

The utility said the judge’s recommendation “differs in regards to certain key areas, including the employee, community and energy replacement programs. PG&E strongly disagrees with these proposed adjustments.”

The utility’s proposal is separate from the multibillion-dollar plan to decommission Diablo Canyon, under which the site would eventually be dismantled.

The twin-reactor plant has been operating commercially since the mid-1980s, supplying power to about 3 million homes in Northern and Central California.

The judge endorsed the schedule to retire the reactors, Unit 1 in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025, when their federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses expire. He wrote it provides “a reasonable amount of time for the transition process.”

EXPLORE: ENVIRONMENTNEWSDIABLO CANYONENERGYNUCLEAR POWERPG&EPOWER PLANT

Tips from an HOA Board for a Safe Halloween in Your Association

by HOA Manager –

little_girl_dressed_for_Halloween

Halloween is a kid’s delight. It’s a blast to dress up in costumes, go trick-or-treating, attend parties and most of all, eat a lot of candy. At the same time, Halloween can be scary for parents. Costumes can be dangerous, too much candy can be sickening and walking around at night can be risky, even in your homeowners association community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionoffers the tips below to make sure your little ghouls and goblins have a SAFE HALLOWEEN. It’s not too late for your HOA board to hand them out to the members in your Association.

Halloween Safety Tips:

S – Swords, knives and similar costume accessories should be short, soft and flexible.

A – Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Children should walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

F – Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see trick-or-treaters.

E – Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before they’re eaten.

 

H – Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help see and help others see you.

A – Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it when done to avoid skin irritation.

L – Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.

L – Lower the risk for serious eye injury by avoiding decorative contact lenses.

O – Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.

W – Wear well-fitting masks, costumes and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips and falls.

E – Eat only factory-wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook.

E – Enter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult.

N – Never walk near lit candles or other open flames. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

If members will be hosting a party in your homeowners association or expecting trick-or-treaters recommend they:

  • Provide healthy treats, such as individual packs of raisins, trail mix or pretzels. Offer fruits, vegetables and cheeses to party guests.
  • Use party games and trick-or-treating as an opportunity for kids to get their daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.
  • Be sure walking areas and stairs are well-lit and free of obstacles that could cause falls.
  • Keep candlelit jack-o-lanterns and other open flames away from doorsteps, walkways, landings and curtains. Place them on sturdy tables, keep them out of reach of pets and small children, and never leave them unattended.
  • Drive safely and watch out for trick-or-treaters.
  • Be aware of the Association rules, especially regarding decorations, parking, and noise.

It’s the role of the HOA board to protect, maintain, and enhance the homeowners association. Keeping members informed or even providing a place where they can gather to celebrate Halloween – such as the clubhouse – will help everyone have a fun and safe Halloween.

Encourage your HOA board members to pass out these simple guidelines to members to promote a safe environment to enjoy Halloween in your homeowners association for parents and kids too!

Please stop calling the new Bloomberg HQ the world’s most sustainable office building. It’s not.

by Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter) –

bloomberg exterior

© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

It’s a great building with lots of green features, but there is more to sustainability than a high BREEAM score.

Mike Bloomberg is one of my favourite billionaire philanthropists, building his new European headquarters in London, one of my favourite cities, designed by Norman Foster, one of my favourite architects. But I do wish everyone would stop calling it “the world’s most sustainable office building,” which both Bloomberg and Foster (and every other website) do; it’s not.

Bloomberg walkway© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

There is a lot of green goodness in this building, and it did get a BREEAM score of 98.5 percent, the highest ever for an office development. (BREEAM is a sort of British version of LEED). There are some really interesting innovations, like the ceiling, described by Foster + Partners:

ceiling panels© Bloomberg via Archdaily

Integrated Ceiling Panels: Bespoke integrated ceiling panels combine heating, cooling, lighting and acoustic functions in an innovative petal-leaf design. The system, which incorporates 500,000 LED lights, uses 40 percent less energy than a typical fluorescent office lighting system.

greenf eatures© Bloomberg/ Green features

It has serious water conservation measures that reduce consumption by 73 percent, including vacuum toilets. There is also a Foster favourite:

Natural Ventilation: When ambient weather conditions are temperate, the building’s distinctive bronze blades can open and close, allowing the building to operate in a “breathable” natural ventilation mode. Reducing dependency on mechanical ventilation and cooling equipment significantly reduces energy consumption.

bloomberg roof© Bloomberg via Archdaily

Foster has tried this on a few buildings, notably the Gherkin, where nobody ever opens the windows. I suspect nobody will in the Bloomberg building either, given the awful air quality in London. But there are also “smart CO2 sensors that vary the amount of fresh air required when they are running the air conditioning, and a big combined heat and power (CHP) plant that supplies heat and power in a single, efficient system with reduced carbon emissions. Waste heat generated from this process is recycled for cooling and heating and, in use, is expected to save 500-750 metric tonnes of CO2 each year.”

All of these are wonderful things; Foster and Bloomberg deserve much credit. But calling it “the world’s most sustainable office building” just because it has a high BREEAM score doesn’t make it so. For example, CHP plants usually generate heat and power by burning natural gas. The most sustainable office building in the world wouldn’t burn fossil fuels.

Bullitt center© Bullitt Center

The Bullitt building in Seattle doesn’t; it has solar power and gets its heat through ground source heat pumps. But it’s not BREEAM; it is built to the Living Building Challenge standard.

The world’s most sustainable office building would consider the embodied energy of the materials in it; Oliver Wainwright notes that “the embodied energy levels are not slight, given that it contains 600 tonnes of bronze imported from Japan and a quarry-full of granite from India.” That doesn’t even include the embodied energy of the concrete in it.

Powerhouse Korbo© Powerhouse Korbo/ Snohetta

The PowerHouse Kjørbo, an office building outside of Oslo designed by Snøhetta, was designed to produce not only more energy than it needs from its solar panels, but “generates more energy than what was used for the production of building materials, its construction, operation and disposal.” It actually pays back its embodied energy.

bloomberg interior lobby and stair© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

The Bloomberg HQ is a lovely, very green building and London is lucky to have it. (Really lucky — Bloomberg might have built it somewhere else had he known Brexit was coming.) Bloomberg describes his ambitions for it:

We believe that environmentally-friendly practices are as good for business as they are for the planet. From day one, we set out to push the boundaries of sustainable office design — and to create a place that excites and inspires our employees. The two missions went hand-in-hand, and I hope we’ve set a new standard for what an office environment can be.

living wall in pantry© Bloomberg via Archdaily

It is a new standard, absolutely. But please, stop calling it the most sustainable office building in the world. It’s not.

This might explain why your electricity bill is so high

You’re wasting electricity and money. Here’s how to save on both.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Even when you turn off your electronics, they could still be wasting electricity. When you press the off switch, many electronics — like televisions, DVRs and satellite boxes– go into standby mode.

The Pivot Power Genius

Colin West McDonald/CNET

During standby mode, electronics don’t turn off completely. They perform updates, record your favorite shows and generally just wait for you to come back, sucking up energy as they do. This is called standby power or phantom load. The energy lost is called vampire energy or leaking energy.

According to the US Department of Energy, your electricity wasters account for 10 percent or more of your electricity bill.

It would explain how my colleague Jason Cipriani ended up saving $840 per year on his electricity bill.

Televisions, DVRs and satellite boxes aren’t the only energy users. Chances are, you have several chargers around your home and they stay plugged in 24/7. Phone chargers use around 0.26 watts when plugged in, but not in use. A laptop charger also wastes energy, using 4.42 kWh when not in use and 29.48 kWh with a fully charged laptop plugged into it. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has a full list of gadgets and how much energy they waste, here.

Test your home for excess energy usage

Want to see if your home is affected by leaking energy? Turn off your AC or heating unit and your hot water heater. Now, turn off everything in your home, but leave it all plugged in.

Then, go look at the electric meter box that’s typically located on the side of your home. Are the numbers still going up? If they are, that means that your devices are still sucking electricity.

Another, more straightforward approach is to use a plug-in device like the Kill-A-Watt or the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch that measures energy usage.

Duke Energy also has a nifty calculator that can help you see just how much your devices and appliances may be wasting… without getting out of your chair.

How to kill vampire waste

The most obvious way to stop energy leaks is by unplugging everything when you aren’t using it. But this can be a huge pain, especially when you use various items throughout the day or the outlets are behind heavy furniture.

One way to make things a little easier is by using power strips. Whenever you aren’t using your devices, flip the switch on the power strip to cut off all power to your devices so that they can’t go into standby. Some power strips even come with remotes so you can shut off power from across the room, like the Conserve Switch AV Surge Protector or the Uninex Surge Protector.

Smart power strips take this idea a step further. They have outlets that are meant for different types of devices. Some of the outlets are designated for items that need to stay on all the time, like your DVR. Other outlets are for items that go into standby mode or use energy, but don’t need to be on. When you shut off a device or disconnect your device from its charger, the power strip senses it and will shut off all power to the device.

Another option is programmable outlets, like the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch and Quirky Pivot Power Genius. These plug into your regular outlet and have an app you can use to schedule your devices to shut off remotely.

Replace energy-hogging appliances

In some cases you might decide that replacing a device or appliance is the best solution. For instance, Jason found that his old secondary refrigerator cost him $40 per month, enough to justify a more energy-efficient replacement.

The California Report

October 24, 2017

Largest Fire Cleanup in State History Begins in North Bay

In Northern California, local, state, and federal agencies are launching what they call the biggest fire clean-up effort in state history.

Pigs Fleeing North Bay Fires Find Refuge in Half Moon Bay

Those whose homes burned in wine country have to live somewhere else for awhile. That includes animals, as well as people. I recently attended a Pumpkin Patch day at a farm in Half Moon Bay that’s offering refuge to some of those animals.

Federal Agency Promoted Ranger Five Months After His Gun Was Stolen and Used in Steinle Killing

A Bureau of Land Management ranger is expected to testify in a high-profile murder case over the slaying of Kathryn Steinle on a San Francisco pier in 2015. The trial opened in the city yesterday.
Steinle was killed with ranger John Woychowski’s gun, which was stolen after he left it unsecured in his car.

Half of California Children Live in Household with Immigrant Parent

In California, nearly half of all children live in a household where they or one of their parents is an immigrant. That’s according to a new study released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

State Senate Hires Outside Firm to Investigate Sexual Harassment

Fall out continues at the State Capitol over claims of sexual harassment within Sacramento’s political circles. The leader of the state Senate has hired two outside firms to investigate the problem.

Fierce Santa Ana Winds Predicted for Southern California

Just as extreme fire conditions are easing up in Northern California, they’re heating up down south.

Fresno Hopes ‘Nothing’ Is Enough to Attract Amazon Headquarters

Some cities are going to great lengths to get the company’s attention: New York temporarily turned the Empire State building orange, to match the Amazon logo; Stonecrest, Georgia offered to rename itself “Amazon.” And, of course, lots of cities are hoping to win the company over with massive tax breaks. But one California city is taking a gamble on a different offer: nothing.