Today Cal Fire issued a news release.  Cal Fire investigators determine the cause of the destructive Butte Fire was the PG&E power line.  Cal Fire will file a lawsuit against PG&E to recover over $90 million for firefighting costs.

Property owners and renters in the Butte Fire area are working with attorneys to calculate the damages to their property.  Potential damages include: loss of use, loss of enjoyment, loss of value, and destruction of homes, trees and fences.  More victims of the Butte Fire join the lawsuits every day.

What documents must PG&E turn over to the lawyers for the fire victims? Which PG&E employees will be required to appear and answer questions under oath, and when? What scientific tests may plaintiffs’ experts perform on the evidence found at the fire’s origin?

These are the types of questions that a judge must decide as the lawyers get their cases ready for trial. Sometimes, these decisions end up being the most important ones a judge makes. But here, some of the lawsuits were filed in the Calaveras County court, and some were filed by the Butte Fire Lawyers in San Francisco County court. The judges in the two different counties could disagree on how these important questions should be decided. So the Calaveras judge ruled that all the decisions leading up to the trials should be made by a single judge, regardless of where the cases were filed. He decided Sacramento is a convenient place for all the attorneys and witnesses, and that the Sacramento court system was best able to handle all the paperwork involved in the pre-trial process without overwhelming the court staff.

It’s now up to the chief judge in Sacramento to assign one of that court’s judges to be the “Coordination Judge.” The Coordination Judge will make all the pre-trial decisions that will guide the preparation of cases. We expect the Coordination Judge to be named within the next few weeks. Once that happens, the Coordination judge will meet with all the attorneys for all the cases – both those filed in Calaveras and in San Francisco – to agree on a schedule for moving the cases forward. Where the cases will be tried remains to be seen.

 

Are you suspicious about the workers asking to enter your property? Do you have concerns that someone may be posing as an agent of CalRecyle?

As the hazardous materials debris removal process moves along, some property owners question the legitimacy of contractors who are contacting them about further work on their property. Applying the wise adage “Better safe than sorry”, it’s smart to watch out for scam operations. If you have concerns about whether a contractor is an agent of CalRecycle, simply call the Butte Fire Operations Center 209-584-4347 and ask them to confirm the identity of the contact.

As of February 19, 2016, the CalRecycle crews have cleared 611 of the 819 identified properties. The 31 task forces are spread throughout the fire area. Of the cleared properties, the majority are in the final three stages of removal: soil assessment sampling, erosion control and County environmental health approval.
 

 

According to CalRecycle waste management engineer Wes Minderman, although at least 32 crews are working in the clean up area, they have only completed about 28% of the properties(779 registered and 216 completed.) Some property owners are concerned about the status of hazardous material inspections and removal.  According to the Butte Fire Clean Up website debris removal was suspended on November 15th.  but Mr. Minderman explains that the suspension was temporary and resumed as soon as weather permitted. 

Currently the crews are focusing on the center of the fire area where management fears that they will lose access: Jesus Maria, Baker Riley, and Hawver areas.  Mr. Minderman and his staff are willing to answer any questions at 916-341-6320.  If you would like current information about your property and the hazmat debris removal, contact Natalie Lee the Butte Fire Debris Removal Planning Chief at 916-835-7478. 

Over 20 days ago, PG&E announced an "Updated Expanded Debris Removal Program".  Today, it continues to tout the program.  It has prepared a mailing to go out today for all of its affected customers.  PG&E set a December 31st deadline to opt in.  

To participate,  PG&E requires the property owner to submit a debris removal authorization form. But that form doesn’t seem to exist.  It has not been shown to the attorneys and it is not part of the PG&E mailing. 

If you haven’t heard, here are the details of the program:

Does your tree qualify for free removal?

According to PG&E it must meet one or more of the criteria below:
 
  • Wood greater than 4 inch in diameter and 6 feet in length
  • Within 100 feet of a structure or foundation
  • Within 20 feet of main roads, driveways and private roads
  • Where reasonably accessible by equipment/machinery
  • If logs are unstable along steep banks and may block a watercourse or roadway
 
Your options for removal, if your tree(s) qualify:
 
  • Move, cut up or pile wood and leave on your property
  • Chip and broadcast wood on site where accessible
  • Haul donated wood away offsite
If you qualify and you are represented by an attorney, you should contact your attorney about the program.
 
Time will tell whether this is anything more than another PG&E public relations campaign.
 

Property owners asked the Judicial Council to coordinate the pre-trial handling of their cases.  In response, the Chief Justice recently asked Calaveras County Presiding Judge to handle the matter. The Calaveras County presiding judge, the Honorable Grant Barrett, will consider the request and make a recommendation to the Chief Justice on the most appropriate site for the Butte Fire coordinated proceeding. Will he keep it in Calaveras or send it to another County?  

 

On November 25, PG&E announced further tree cutting work.  From November 28-December 12, PG&E will send ACRT, Inc.to pre-inspect and repatrol these areas.

Mokelumne Hill:

Jesus Maria Rd
Ponderosa Way
Worden Rd
Hwy 26

Mountain Ranch:
Whiskey Slide

East Murray Creek

Avenue A
Mountain Ranch Rd
Railroad Flat Rd

Sheep Ranch:

Railroad Flat Rd

PG&E’s tree cutting schedule from November 28- December 12 will include these areas.

Mokelumne Hill:

Jesus Maria Rd
Baker Riley Rd
Old Gambetta Rd
Doster Rd
East Murray Creek
Old Greek Mine Rd
Buttondown Lane
Rainbow Rd
Upper Dorray Rd.
Lower Dorray Rd
Electra Rd
Flat Gulch Rd
Lower Gulch Rd
Diamond Lane
Old Gambetta Trl
Ponderosa Wy
Hwy 26
Sierra Oaks Lane

Mountain Ranch:

RailRoad Flat Rd
El Dorado Trl
Sierra Vista Way
West murray Creek
East Murray Cree
Whiskey Slide
Green Ranch Rd
Pine Ridge Rd
Struckman Rd
Emigrant Ct
Avenue A
3 Mile Ln
Rodesino Rd
Carabaldi St
Washington St
Old Emigrant Trail W
Hwy 26
Cedar Way
Spring Lake Rd
Cilenti Ranch Rd
Loma Serena Rd
Swiss Ranch Rd
Worden Rd
Francine Ct
44 Ranch Rd
Ponderosa Wy
Storey Rd
Wendell Rd
Hidden Valley Rd
Sheep Ranch Rd

Sheep Ranch:

Eagleview Dr
Cave City Rd
Sun Rd
Ham Luddy Rd
Skyview Ct
Lakeside Dr
Sugar Pine Rd
Eagleview Dr
Live Oak Lane
Oakridge Rd
Calaveras Rd 

Railroad Flat Rd
Hidden Valley Rd
Sheep Ranch Rd