Rising from the ashes of devastation

With the recent snows, fire season is officially over, but not in the minds of many of the victims of the Camp Fire who literally faced a war of flames chasing them down relentlessly, as they raced to save their lives and those of their family members.

For those fellow citizens to the south of us in Butte County, their horror still lingers in graphic detail in memories that will never completely subside or be forgotten.

Little more than two months later, the massive devastation that swept through Paradise and neighboring communities will take decades to rebuild, if ever.

For now and for the immediate future, Nov. 8, 2018, isn’t really over, but remains an everyday reality to families struggling to put their lives back together.

I was especially heartened to see the people of Chester step up in their assistance and generosity to help those most affected. A rural community such as ours doesn’t have a lot of extras to give, but many gave what they could, whether temporary shelter, food, transportation or just a shoulder to cry on.

With entire swaths of Butte County incinerated in the firestorm, the Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

The fire caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with three persons still unaccounted for, and is the deadliest wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet Fire in 1918 killed 453.

The blaze also injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters and three other firefighters, burning through 153,336 acres and destroying 18,804 structures, with most of the structural damage occurring within the first four hours, based on reports.

Total damage from the Camp Fire is estimated to cost in the range of $16.5 billion; one-quarter of the damage, $4 billion, was not insured.

In other cases, property owners found themselves underinsured, with many policies providing inadequate coverage to help them recover their losses.

Even when homes and businesses are hit by devastating wildfire, people often discover that their insurance companies fail to keep the promises they made when they signed their contracts and collected their premiums, or use bankruptcy to protect their stockholders.

According to one news source online, “People who lost property, vehicles, farms, ranches and businesses or suffered an injury during the evacuation while the wildfire incinerated nearly everything in sight may be entitled to significant financial compensation.”

A plethora of attorneys have already lined up in droves to represent the victims of the tragedy who have significant damage to homes and businesses.

It should be noted that more than 400 litigants to date have joined lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric, blaming the company’s transmission lines for sparking the deadly fires. They claim the corporation failed to maintain its high-tension wires and placed profits over safety.

In fact, this has happened in the past many times already. Previous to this fire, regulators have punished PG&E with tens of millions of dollars in fines related to wildfires.

Last year alone PG&E was implicated by CalFire as the cause of more than 15 wildfires, and may also be responsible for the Camp Fire.

In an official news release, the company said that it remained committed to providing “safe electric service to customers” as it prepares to initiate a “voluntary reorganization under Chapter 11 Bankruptcy,” on or about Jan. 29, and intends to use a “court-supervised process to achieve orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of potential liabilities resulting from Northern California Wildfires.”

John R. Simon, PG&E Corporation Interim CEO, stated, “The people affected by the devastating Northern California wildfires are our customers, our neighbors and our friends, and we understand the profound impact the fires have had on our communities and the need for PG&E to continue enhancing our wildfire mitigation efforts.”

The company also said it is “committed to continuing to make investments in system safety as it works with regulators, policymakers and other key stakeholders.”

But for several thousand victims, such promises come far too late. Those whose lives have been disrupted due to no fault of their own may be wondering what next steps to take.

Many survivors have started a new chapter in their lives in townships like Chester, Chico and other communities.

But after losing everything they worked a lifetime to build, it will be a long, hard hill to climb back to solvency.