In May, CALFIRE released findings condemning one of California’s major utilities company, PG&E, as the cause for last year’s devastating Camp Fire. Before these findings, the company was already in hot water with responsibility for 2017’s October Fire Siege in Northern California. The 10s of billions in lawsuits associated, forced the company to file for bankruptcy this January and prompted speculation that the Northern California utilities could become state-run. So far that hasn’t happened. But what has happened is that PG&E has decided to address the cause of these major fires by proposing to actually cut power during high-wind days, which could cause blackouts for millions of residents for days at a time.
The 2019 wildfire season is about to start. So far this year major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southwest. As we move into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential. This foreboding outlook comes on the heels of another (2018) Fire Season that set multiple records.
Unfortunately for most, after a wildfire has passed is when the real work begins. The wildfire may not have impacted the home with direct flame impingement, but even from a distance a wildfire can have many negative effects on a structure. Indirect damage from wildfires can come in many forms, one of the most common being smoke damage. This byproduct of wildfire is a nearly super heated gas that is compromised of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, and other toxic particulates that are created during combustion. While a fire is moving in the direction of a home, smoke is constantly being created and pushed towards impacting the structure. (Read more on smoke coloration studies here.)
Any space that is not airtight in your home is likely to fall victim to some of the negative impacts that smoke can have. Some of the areas that are the most common entrances of smoke to a structure would be doors (or any means of ingress and egress for residents and pets), windows, and central air ducts. With enough smoke, these air ducts can be a very efficient means of transportation to areas of the house that one would think are relatively inaccessible to particulate matter.
Once the smoke has entered the structure, it is difficult to stop the damage that follows. This troublesome gas usually leaves soot strewn throughout the home as well as, leaving foul smelling odors throughout the fabric of the home. These odors can be much more hazardous than just an unpleasant smell. The framework and materials of the structure can hold the particulate matter that has been shown to be a carcinogenic in some cases.
What are the steps that should be taken when impacted by smoke damage?
The most common response is “Document”. Document from the first time entering the home since the incident when the damage occurred, and every step in the reimbursement, replacement, and refurbishing process. Documenting these steps will provide records for your interactions with your insurance providers and ultimately make the entire process much smoother for all parties involved. Once the initial damage has been reported, an inspector may be necessary to finalize the reporting process. Going forward, there are two major choices that need to be made: will the damaged materials be replaced or will they be refurbished or cleaned. If the damage to clothing or fabric is minimal to the point that cleaning the surface/clothing is an option, professional cleaners will need to be hired to remove all of the soot and particulate matter from the smoke that settled in the home.
A severe storm brought three days of extreme weather to a large swath of the South, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic over the weekend. Tornadoes, hail, flooding, and extreme winds wreaked havoc from Texas to Pennsylvania. Nine people died as a result of the storm, with causes ranging from trees falling to drowning in floodwaters. The number of confirmed tornadoes continues to climb as investigations continue, but as of this writing, the number has risen to 41 across 9 states. High winds, with speeds recorded up to 136 mph, destroyed dozens of homes. Over 200,000 residents lost power across the states. As communities still reel from the damage, another nearly identical storm is starting to move across Texas. Read more
Just as the Midwest United States is known as ‘Tornado Alley’ and earthquakes occur along fault lines more regularly than other locations, there are coastal areas at increased tsunami risk. As discussed previously, tsunamis are mostly caused by intense and sudden seafloor motion. While the first ideas to come to mind may be earthquakes and volcanoes (among others), the coastal areas most near these events are not necessarily the area(s) at highest risk.
A small fire began Saturday afternoon in the Pine Barrens area of the Penn State Forest in Southern New Jersey. In less than two days, the Spring Hill Fire proceeded to burn over 11,000 acres. By 8am EDT Monday morning, crews reported they had the fire contained. Firefighters will remain on scene to monitor the fire since some areas are still burning. Full fire containment means the fire resources no longer believe the fire will grow or move out of the area it already scorched; however, a contained fire is not necessarily ‘out’. Additionally, nearby towns will likely still see, and possibly smell, smoke from the fire. While the cause of the blaze has not been confirmed, it is believed to have been human-caused. In addition to the fire occurring in an area known for illegal bonfires, the fire burned in an area that had no lightning strikes reported, has no power lines nearby, and was not conducting any prescribed or planned. Read more
New Regulations Forcing Compliance
California utility companies have been working to address their liability to the growing risk for massive wildfire events. The California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, has stringent rules and guidelines for maintenance and mitigation, and has often held utility companies liable to the damages caused by their equipment starting fires. Senate Bill 901, named The Utility Wildfire Mitigation Plans Bill, outlines further requirements for utilities to provide the state with plans to prevent, combat, and respond to wildfires in their service territories. It allows for CPUC to review and modify these plans before the utility is allowed to adopt the plan. Read on to learn how these companies plan to combat this ever increasing threat. Read more
Severe weather is upon us in the United States with damaging tornadoes hitting the southern states in late January and late February. One EF4 tornado also tore through Alabama and Georgia in early March, the worst of the roughly 100 reported tornado total so far in 2019. As we move into the spring and summer months, conditions historically become more volatile. Specifically from March to June, the highest chance of severe weather spreads north and east across the Plains, the Midwest, and Southeast. Like Hurricanes and Wildfires, Tornadoes have a peak season too.