California utility fires contractor from wildfire recovery

SAN FRANCISCO – A Northern California utility on Monday said it terminated one of its contractors helping with wildfire recovery after three workers posted on social media insensitive photos and comments poking fun at victims and the region. Pacific Gas & Electric said Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. will no longer help the utility repair … Continue reading “California utility fires contractor from wildfire recovery”

SAN FRANCISCO – A Northern California utility on Monday said it terminated one of its contractors helping with wildfire recovery after three workers posted on social media insensitive photos and comments poking fun at victims and the region.

Pacific Gas & Electric said Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. will no longer help the utility repair widespread damage to its power lines caused by the state's most destructive wildfire on Nov. 8.

PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said he does not know if the San Leandro, California-based company will continue to work with the utility elsewhere in the state.

The posts were widely shared on social media and the photos showed the former workers sitting in front of destroyed homes, pretending to drive a burned out vehicle and jumping through the remnants of child's trampoline. One photo showed a dead cat with a beer bottle in its mouth.

Bigge's corporate counsel, Randy Smith, said in statement Monday that the company fired the three workers after the Paradise city administrator complained about the posts.

"We expressed – and express again – our deepest regrets to the residents of Paradise and Butte County who were egregiously insulted during an already devastating time at the hands of these three individuals," Smith said in a post on the company's Website.

Smith didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press on Monday.

PG&E is facing a growing number of lawsuits alleging its equipment started the Camp Fire that killed at least 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and leveled Paradise, a city of 27,000 residents. PG&E reported an equipment malfunction at the time and location where the fire started, causing its stock to plummet 40 percent.

The company's share price fell $1.57, or 6 percent, on Monday after the California Public Utilities Commission announced the utility falsified records to hide the fact it didn't have enough workers to locate and mark natural-gas pipelines between 2012 and 2017.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the wildfire, but say the utility's equipment caused 17 wildfires last year. PG&E is liable for any damage caused by its equipment even if it's not at fault.

Explosion at restaurant in Japan injures more than 40, officials say

More than 40 people were reported injured after an explosion took place at a restaurant in northern Japan on Sunday, officials said.

The blast took place around 8:30 p.m. in a neighborhood about 2 miles from the center of Sapporo, the capital of the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido that's located about 700 miles north of Tokyo.

Police said at least 41 people were injured, most of them mildly, though one is in serious condition. They are being treated at nearby hospitals.

The blast, which took place in an area with residential and dining establishments, sent debris into area streets and a large plume of smoke rose from the scene, according to Kyodo News.

Images on social media showed flames rising from the area as firefighters attempted to work over collapsed debris.

Police officers were keeping people from approaching the damaged building out of fear of additional blasts, the Japan Times reported.

“I heard a ‘bang,’ which sounded like thunder, and my condo was shaken,” a man who lives nearby told the news outlet.

Another clerk at a nearby restaurant told Japanese broadcaster NHK there was a "tremendous sound."

"The explosion broke the window glass of the shop where I work," the clerk said. "It seems there are many injured people on site."

Additional details about the cause of the blast and extent of those injured were not immediately known.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @travfed

All evacuation orders lifted in deadly California wildfire

PARADISE, Calif. – All evacuation orders have been lifted in Paradise more than a month after a devastating wildfire that wiped out the Northern California town.

The fire that broke out Nov. 8 killed at least 86 people and destroyed 14,000 homes in Paradise and nearby communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

This will be the first time many residents get to see their property since fleeing the firestorm.

The Butte County health officer issued an advisory strongly urging people not to live on destroyed property until it is declared clear of hazardous waste, ash and debris. The county is providing masks, gloves and protective suits to reduce exposure to toxic materials.

Authorities also warned of an increased risk for flash flooding in the burn areas.

Report details firefighters’ harrowing work in Paradise

On the first day fighting the deadly Northern California wildfire that destroyed the city of Paradise last month, a crew setting a back burn to stop the blaze was suddenly overrun by flames when erratic winds suddenly shifted.

One state prison inmate firefighter tried to escape the flames and ran into a barbed wire fence along Rattlesnake Flats Road. Another inmate cleared the fence on the other side of the road, but his gear snagged the barbed wire and he tumbled face-down. Flames ignited his hair, beard and mustache and burned his face and neck. A fire captain nearby was also seriously burned.

Those close calls with death were detailed in a report Thursday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on five serious firefighter injuries that also described harrowing conditions firefighters faced in the so-called Camp Fire that broke out Nov. 8, decimating the town of Paradise, killing at least 86 people and destroying 14,000 homes.

Although the firefighters were seriously injured, they were lucky they weren't hurt worse, said Scott McLean, a spokesman for CalFire.

"We had several angels over us that day," McLean said.

Conditions leading into the fire were exceptionally dry. Typically autumn rains would have fallen by that time of year, but less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain had fallen in seven months.

The blaze started around 6:30 a.m. and spread at "incredible speed," consuming 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) an hour at one point, the report said. Driven by wind gusts up to 35 mph (56 kph), it marched 15 miles (24 kilometers) in 12 hours with spot fires blowing a mile (1.6 kilometers) ahead of fire lines.

Although fire ripped through the area 10 years earlier, when flames jumped the west fork of the Feather River it entered dense forest that had not burned in recorded history. Treetops were close together and heavy manzanita and oaks below were ripe for burning.

By the time it hit Paradise, it was an "urban firestorm" spreading among buildings in a manner the report compared to the allied bombings that razed the city of Hamburg, Germany in World War II and killed tens of thousands of people.

Before dawn the following morning, two firefighters preparing to protect homes near Magalia were struck and injured by shrapnel when a 250-gallon (946-liter) propane tank exploded.

One firefighter was struck with embers and pieces of a fence and was disoriented as he was knocked to one knee. A fire captain was hit with burning sticks, pine cones and molten aluminum.

Those two and the men overcome the day before on Rattlesnake Flat Road were all taken to hospital burn centers for treatment, McLean said.

The worst of the injured, the captain overrun in the backfire operation, was just released from a hospital a little more than a week ago.

California fire survivors share lessons in loss, recovery

CHICO, Calif. – Survivors of a deadly blaze that tore through California wine country last year shared lessons of loss and pain but also resilience with those who escaped the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century last month.

A group of wine country residents spent a day in a packed meeting with those who lived in Paradise and several nearby communities who peppered them with questions, The Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa reported Wednesday.

They asked about dealing with insurance companies, cleanup and rebuilding. But they also wanted to know about the rollercoaster of emotions.

The main advice from wildfire survivors who lost their homes after a fire roared through several Santa Rosa neighborhoods 14 months ago was to question everything and band together like never before.

"I'd like to say we know what you went through, but what you went through was so much more," said Anne Barbour, whose home in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood was among the first to be rebuilt. "Step up and take your town back, because what we've created is one hell of a community."

Barbour was one of eight residents who spent Tuesday meeting with about 75 Paradise-area residents facing the kind of grief and uncertainty they began grappling with more than a year ago.

The Tubbs Fire in October 2017 destroyed nearly 5,300 homes and killed at least 22 people. It was the most destructive wildfire in California history until Nov. 8, when a massive blaze swept through Paradise and nearby communities, destroying nearly 14,000 homes and killing at least 86 people.

"You will find yourselves mad at inanimate objects," said Jeff Okrepkie, who founded the Coffey Strong group in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood that lost 1,321 homes. "I'm talking about a door that won't close properly, and now I'm swearing at it for five minutes because I'm mad at the world."

The meeting was held in Chico, about a 25-minute drive west of Paradise where the Camp Fire leveled the entire town.

Alan Rellaford, 58, said drone video shows his Paradise home still stands but he does not know when he will be able to return. His wife is undergoing treatment for cancer and needs a safe, clean home more than ever.

"The people who have been through it — they are coming through in magnificent ways," Rellaford said. "They know we need more than paper towels and sweat shirts."


Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat,

Correction: California Wildfires-Cleanup story

SAN FRANCISCO – In a story Dec. 11 about California wildfires, The Associated Press reported erroneously that insurance carriers paid $11.8 billion to 2017 Northern California wine country wildfire victims. Insurance companies paid $10 billion.

A corrected version of the story is below:

California wildfires cleanup to cost at least $3 billion

Authorities estimate it will cost at least $3 billion to clear debris of 19,000 homes destroyed by California wildfires last month


Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — State and federal authorities estimated Tuesday that it will cost at least $3 billion to clear debris from 19,000 homes and businesses destroyed by three California wildfires last month.

The disaster relief officials said the cleanup costs will far surpass the record cleanup expense of $1.3 billion the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent on debris removal in Northern California in 2017.

California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said the state will manage cleanup contracts this time. Hundreds of Northern California homeowners complained contractors last year paid by the ton hauled away too much dirt and damaged unbroken driveways, sidewalks and pipes. The state OES spent millions of dollars repairing that damage.

Ghilarducci said the state OES will hire auditors and monitors to watch over the debris removal in hopes of cutting down on the number of over-eager contractors.

"We learned a great number of things," last year, Ghilarducci said.

He said the U.S. Corps of Engineers was asked to lead the effort last year because state resources were stretched thin after responding to more than a dozen wildfires. This year, he said state officials can manage the cleanup and costs will be shared among state, federal and local authorities.

He said he expects the cleanup to begin in January and take about a year to complete. State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties.

Most of the work will occur in Northern California, where the state's most destructive wildfire destroyed the city of Paradise.

The death toll from the Camp Fire stood at 86 on Tuesday, after the Butte County Sheriff's office said that a Paradise man had died of his burn injuries in a hospital nearly three weeks after the Nov. 8 blaze. The number of people on the unaccounted-for list remains at 3.

Insurance companies estimate the industry will face at least $10 billion in claims from homeowners and businesses destroyed or damaged in the latest wildfires.

California's insurance commissioner said the carriers received $10 billion in claims because of the 2017 wine country fires.

Dave Jones has warned increasing risk from wildfires in California could prompt insurers to raise premiums or decline to sell policies entirely to homes in high-risk areas.

Firms to pay $9M to settle suit over 2012 California fire

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Officials say a construction company and a logging firm have collectively agreed to pay $9 million for damages resulting from a 2012 wildfire that burned more than 1,600 acres of national forest land in Northern California.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento says Monday that the agreement settles a lawsuit brought by the federal government against Kernen Construction and Bundy & Sons Logging.

Prosecutors say Bundy logging equipment hauled by Kernen became unsecured and dragged along a highway, causing sparks that ignited dry vegetation.

The resulting blaze charred a swath of brush and timber within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Neither company admits liability for the fire under the settlement.

Dog that survived California wildfire guarded home for weeks

SAN FRANCISCO – A dog that survived the catastrophic wildfire in Northern California apparently protected the ruins of his home for almost a month until his owner returned.

Madison was there waiting when Andrea Gaylord was allowed back to check on her burned property in Paradise this week.

Gaylord fled when the Nov. 8 fire broke out and decimated the town of 27,000. An animal rescuer who responded to Gaylord's request to check on Madison first spotted the male Anatolian shepherd mix several days later.

Shayla Sullivan said the outdoor guard dog was apprehensive and kept his distance. Sullivan left food and water for him regularly until Gaylord got back on Wednesday. She also helped locate Madison's brother Miguel, another Anatolian shepherd mix that was taken to a shelter 85 miles (135 kilometers) away in the confusing aftermath of the wildfire.

"If (the evacuees) can't be there I'm going to be and I'm not going to give up on their animal until they can get back in," Sullivan said.

The dogs reunited Friday when Gaylord came back to the property with Miguel and brought Madison his favorite treat: a box of Wheat Thin crackers.

Gaylord told news station ABC10 she couldn't ask for a better animal.

"Imagine the loyalty of hanging in in the worst of circumstances and being here waiting," she said.

"Their instinctual job is to watch the flocks and we're part of them," Gaylord said about her dogs. "It's a comforting feeling."

Nightclub stampede in Italy leaves at least 6 dead, dozens hurt, officials say

At least six people died and dozens were hurt during a stampede of panicked concertgoers, many of them young teenagers, at a disco on Italy's central Adriatic coast early Saturday, authorities said.

The dead included three girls, two boys and a woman. Police said 59 people were injured, which took place around 1 a.m. local time.

Carabinieri paramilitary police Col. Cristian Carrozza said the teen victims ranged in age from 14 to 16 and the woman was 39. Of those injured, 13 were in serious condition, he said.

The woman had accompanied her daughter to the Lanterna Azzuerra (Blue Lantern) club in Corinaldo, near Ancona, where Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta was set to perform, Ancona Police Chief Oreste Capocasa said.

Up to 1,000 people were believed to be inside the disco.

"It was a mess. The bouncers were getting the persons out," one unidentified witness told RAI state radio. "I went out the main door. People fell, one after the other, on top of each other. Absurd."

"It was a mess. … I went out the main door. People fell, one after the other, on top of each other.  Absurd."

— Witness

The bodies of the trampled victims were all found near a low wall inside the disco, Ancona Firefighters Cmdr. Dino Poggiali told Sky TG24 News.

There was panic after pepper spray was fired inside the club, according to the BBC, citing other reports.

But Ancona Firefighters Cmdr. Dino Poggiali said he didn't have any immediate confirmation from survivors that the use of an irritant, like pepper spray, had set off the panic.

In this frame taken from video rescuers assist injured people outside a nightclub in Corinaldo, central Italy, early Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. 

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said there possibly was a "stink" that could have been ammonia or another substance.Overcrowding was also suspected.

"From the initial investigation we have verified that more tickets were sold than the place could hold" in terms of capacity, Corrazza was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Poggiali said it was too early in the investigation to know if any safety violations might have played a role.

Ebbasta tweeted a statement on Saturday morning in response to the disco stampede.

"I am deeply saddened by what happened last night in Corinaldo. It is difficult to find the right words to express the regret and pain of these tragedies," he wrote in Italian, sending "my affection and my support."

A 16-year-old boy told Italian news agency ANSA that disco patrons were dancing while awaiting the start of the concert when the stampede erupted.

Poggiali said that when rescuers arrived, all the doors were open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amy Lieu is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.

Mountain lion dies after surviving California wildfire

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A mountain lion that survived numerous treacherous freeway crossings and a massive wildfire northwest of Los Angeles has died.

Authorities using data from his tracking collar found the remains of P-64 earlier this week in an unburned area of the Simi Hills.

P-64 was a 4-year-old male whose territory included the hills and parts of the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountains.

Researchers say the big cat suffered burned paws but survived last month's Woolsey Fire that ravaged the area. He was last known to be alive on Nov. 26.

There's no word yet on the cause of death.

P-64 was dubbed the "Culvert Cat" because he used a storm drain to cross two treacherous freeways 41 times.

Another young male, P-74, is believed to have died in the fire.