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Officials: PG&E equipment sparked deadly California wildfire
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Officials: PG&E equipment sparked deadly California wildfire

Officials: PG&E equipment sparked deadly California wildfire
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger,File
FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo a home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif. California fire authorities say that Pacific Gas and Electric equipment was responsible for the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history. Cal Fire said in a press release issued Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that electrical transmission lines in the Pulga area sparked the Nov. 8 fire that wiped out most of the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. (AP Photo/Noah Berger,File)

Officials: PG&E equipment sparked deadly California wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines sparked a Northern California blaze that killed 85 people last year, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, state fire officials said Wednesday.

Cal Fire said transmission lines owned and operated by the San Francisco-based utility started the Nov. 8 fire that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The fire wiped out nearly 15,000 homes. Many of those killed were elderly or disabled. The oldest was 99.

"Investigators determined there were violations of law," Cal Fire deputy director Mike Mohler said. He said he hadn't read the report and didn't know the nature of the violations.

Cal Fire did not release its full investigative report, saying it had been forwarded to the Butte County district attorney's office, which is considering criminal charges against the utility.

The investigation also identified a second nearby ignition site involving PG&E's electrical distribution lines that had come into contact with vegetation. The second fire was quickly consumed by the initial fire.

The disclosures came on the same day the utility's new chief executive was testifying before a legislative committee in Sacramento. Bill Johnson told the state Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee he had expected the utility would be blamed for the fire.

"I have made the assumption when I got here that PG&E equipment caused the fire," he said, noting the utility had said that was probable in recent filings. "It's a disappointment that this happened. Let's not do it again."

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in a statement that he is still weighing possible criminal charges against the utility, a decision that could take months. He called Cal Fire's decision to forward its report to Butte County "strictly symbolic." because it has been long known that PG&E's equipment caused the fire.

State fire investigators have determined that PG&E caused 18 wildfires in 2017. They referred 12 for possible criminal prosecution.

Attorney Mike Danko, who represents 2,000 victims of the fire, said he was encouraged by the fact that Cal Fire sent its latest report to the district attorney, which could mean it has evidence that the utility was negligent on safety issues.

"We know from our work that PG&E knew its towers in the area were corroded and were at risk of failing," Danko said.

The utility, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, said in February it was "probable" that one of its transmission lines sparked the blaze. PG&E has estimated its total liability from the Paradise fire and 2017 wildfires could top $30 billion.

The Paradise fire spread rapidly, burning into the communities of Concow and Magalia and the outskirts of Chico. Authorities said it was like no fire they had seen before. Strong wind gusts blew hot embers a mile or more, creating multiple fires.

"The tinder dry vegetation and red flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread," Cal fire said in its release.

The utility previously acknowledged that the Caribou-Palermo transmission line lost power right before the fire and was later found to be damaged.

Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said she was not surprised to hear Pacific Gas & Electric power lines sparked the blaze that decimated her town and she hopes the findings help the city's legal case against the utility.

"It's nice to have a definite answer," Jones said.

Paradise sued PG&E in January seeking damages for the loss of infrastructure, land, property, trees, public and natural resources, and lost taxpayer resources.

The suit alleges the blaze started when electrical infrastructure owned, operated and maintained by PG&E failed, causing a spark that ignited the blaze.

The suit also alleges that PG&E had planned to de-energize power lines as a precaution against starting a fire but canceled those plans despite windy conditions.

PG&E has proposed a dramatic expansion of planned electrical outages as part of a wildfire mitigation plan submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission in February. It has also proposed to cover overhead wiring, install more fire-resistant power poles and put some power lines underground.

The findings Wednesday "certainly brings even greater urgency to our need to inspect, repair, have a power safety shut off plan," Johnson told reporters outside the legislative hearing.

PG&E's bankruptcy reorganization plan is due by the end of May, but it has requested an extension until November.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Wednesday filing that PG&E shouldn't get an extra six months to reorganize. He said the utility's request continues to show it lacks an urgent focus on improving safety.

Newsom and lawmakers are working on proposals related to utility liability for wildfires that could affect the bankruptcy.

___

Associated Press writers Adam Beam and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, and Paul Elias and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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Local News

  • Better late than never. Cam Shepherd’s home run with two-out in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs a 2-0 walk-off win over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. It was only the third hit game for Georgia, which had been no-hit through 7.1 innings by Aggies’ freshman starter Chris Weber. It was the seventh home run of the season for Shepherd. The junior shortstop had seen his average dip to .229 before hitting the ball over the left-field wall at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, just out of the reach of A&M’s leaping Cam Blake. Randon Jernigan broke up the no-hitter with a single to left in the seventh. Designated hitter John Cable got the Bulldogs’ only other hit with a single to left in the ninth. The victory was the first since 2011 for the Bulldogs (43-14), who had gone 0-8 since 2011. Zac Kristofak (5-0) got the win for Georgia. Texas A&M’s strong pitching came as no surprise to Georgia or anybody else. The Aggies came in as the only SEC team with a lower team ERA (3.10) than the Bulldogs (3.17). Weber came in 4-0 with a 2.79 ERA. Georgia countered with Tim Elliott, a junior right-hander who spent most of the season as a mid-week starter. He gave up just two hits but had three walks before being lifted with one out in the fifth. That’s when the Bulldogs made one of the most amazing double plays in a season full of them. With the bases loaded and one out, first baseman Patrick Sullivan stabbed a hard grounder down the line, came home for the force-out and then caught catcher Mason Meadows throw back to first behind the head of the ducking base-runner for a rare 3-2-3 double play. Other than that, there were a bunch of goose eggs put up by both teams. The post Cam Shepherd bottom-of-9th homer lifts No. 5 Georgia to SEC tourney victory appeared first on DawgNation.
  • The Barrow County Sheriff said Wednesday that two grandparents found dead inside their Winder home were shot to death. Willard and Dorothy Hess were found dead Monday morning by their grandson inside their home on South Ridge Road.  Why deputies think finding a 'car of interest' could be the key to solving the case, for Channel 2 Action News starting at 5 p.m. Barrow Sheriff says both victims in double homicide were shot to death. Willard and Dorothy Hess found Monday morning . @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/fWpgRIlFUu — Tony Thomas (@TonyThomasWSB) May 22, 2019 Channel 2's Tony Thomas has been following the case since the bodies were found.  So far, no one has been named a suspect.  TRENDING STORIES: Mile-wide asteroid with its own moon to pass Earth on Saturday Child rescued from car parked at Walmart on hottest day of year (Video) Massive American flag at RV dealership leads to fines, legal action Barrow Sheriff says no one ruled out as suspect in murders of Willard and Dorothy Hess. Both were shot to death. Sheriff believes key to case is finding the driver of this car. @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/YumVktXP7r — Tony Thomas (@TonyThomasWSB) May 22, 2019 The Sheriff's Office released a picture of a car 'of interest' in the case Tuesday morning, which they believe could be a key to solving the case. 
  •   A Stephens County man is facing murder charges in Franklin County, charges stemming from the death of a toddler: Willie Spencer was already behind bars, facing child cruelty counts. Murder charges were filed in last year’s case of a 3 year-old who died after being taken to a hospital in Atlanta. Spencer is 48 years old, from Toccoa.  “The preliminary investigation determined that the toddler had injuries that were identified as physical child abuse,” says a statement from Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas.
  • Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill is the featured speaker in a breakfast session that is organized by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce: it’s underway at 8 o’clock this morning at the Downtown Holiday Inn on Broad Street in Athens. It’s part of the Chamber’s Pancakes and Policy series. From the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce…   Come join us for Pancakes & Policy in May! We are excited to have Athens Police Chief Cleveland Spruill as our keynote speaker for the event. He brings more than 27 years in law enforcement to his new role, including more than 17 years of command-level experience with assignments in each of the major bureaus. The cost will be $20 and a delicious breakfast buffet will be provided.
  • The Clarke County School Board sets the dates for public hearings on the latest draft of a School District budget. They’ll be held May 28 and 30 and June 4.    From the Clarke Co School District…     The Clarke County Board of Education recently gave tentative approval to a fiscal year 2020 budget of $164,699,956, based on the continuance of the tentative millage rate of 20 mills. As required by state law, the hearing schedule has changed to the dates below, due to the district’s millage rate being higher than the rollback rate – that is, the rate that would be used to produce the same amount of taxes collected last year. There is an expected increase of 7.40 percent for property taxes levied in 2019, and while the millage rate for the school district is to remain at the tentative 20 mills, this estimate would in effect increase overall collection by 1.378 mills.   These tax increase meetings below will be held in conjunction with budget hearings. Meetings will be held at the location listed below. There will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and provide comments. Tues. May 28. Budget Hearing 5:30-6 p.m. Tax Increase meeting 6-7 p.m.  205 Alps Road Athens, GA 30606. Thur. May 30. Budget Hearing 5:30-6 p.m. Tax Increase meeting 6-7 p.m.  900 Gaines School Road Athens, GA 30605. Tues. June 04. Budget Hearing 5:30-6 p.m. Tax Increase meeting 6-7 p.m.  HT Edwards, 400-1 Dearing Extension Athens, GA 30606.   Each year, the assessed value for taxable property in Athens-Clarke County is recalculated, and the board of tax assessors is required by law to reassess values based on fair market value. The proposed tax increase for a home with fair market value of $200,000 is approximately $96.46, and the proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with fair market value of $250,000 is approximately $137.80.   The Board is scheduled to give final approval to the proposed budget and millage rate at a board meeting June 13 at 6 p.m. at the CCSD Administrative Offices, located at HT Edwards, 400-1 Dearing Extension. The Gainesville City School Board has given tentative approval to a $75.3 million school budget: the Board says the school district spending plan can be funded with Gainesville’s lowest property tax rate in twenty years.

Bulldog News

  • MACON — As the marquee outside the Hargray Capitol Theatre boldly stated to passers by on Second Street, it was the Kirby Smart and Tom Crean Show here on Monday. The Georgia Bulldogs Club’s annual Coaches Caravan made its first stop here in Central Georgia Monday night and it was a quick one. Smart spoke for 7½ minutes and Crean for about twice that before a gathering of a couple or few hundred fans. There was no question-and-answer opportunity for the fans, which typically produces the most entertaining exchanges. No salvos were sent back Florida’s way. Before the program, the coaches did give the local press and team beat writers about 10 minutes for a Q&A backstage. After that, the coaches and an entourage of officers from UGA’s development office led by director Matt Borman adjourned for a private dinner with donors. The group will repeat the process Tuesday night in Augusta. Then that will be it for a while. There was very little in the way of hard news that came out of the session. The most pertinent was that all Bulldogs, current and incoming, are expected to meet academic eligibility requirements. That’s particularly refreshing considering Georgia had “a number of guys” who were sweating out spring semester grades, according to Smart. Other nuggets to come out of the 90-minute affair: Smart said no players other than linebacker Jaden Hunter are currently in the transfer portal. “None that I can think of,” Smart said. Smart congratulated Vince Dooley and praised the university for naming the field after him. “Who better to do it for than for a man who gave his life to the university and did a great job,” Smart said. We’re probably not going to see a lot more of outside linebacker Walter Grant at running back. “A lot of it will depend on the freshmen coming in, Kenny (McIntosh), and other guys at the position and how we feel, and outside ‘backer depth, too,” Smart said. “It was an insurance policy at best. It was kind of a research project to see what he can do.” Crean said he remains in constant contact with sophomore Nicolas Claxton as he works out for NBA scouts and he attended all his events at the NBA combine last week. He interjected that Claxton “could be a lottery pick” if he returned. Crean also said that he expects to sign another player before next season. Headlines from Coaches Caravan QB Jake Fromm will have more ‘offensive input’ in 2019 Kirby Smart expects all players, incoming and otherwise, to be eligible RB Zamir White on pace to be cleared for preseason camp Georgia fans flock to Macon landmark to hear from Kirby Smart           The post VIDEO: Kirby Smart, Tom Crean update fans on Georgia Bulldogs during ‘Coaches Caravan’ appeared first on DawgNation.
  • CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Incoming Miami grad-transfer receiver Lawrence Cager had the unique experience of getting to know both Kirby Smart and Mark Richt as head coaches the past few years. Smart has elevated Georgia football into an annual national championship contender in his three years leading the program. RELATED: Kirby Smart ‘proud’ to have worked for Mark Richt The Bulldogs played in the College Football Playoff Championship Game after he 2017 season, and narrowly missed making the CFP last season in controversial fashion. Smart coached a season under Richt at Georgia in 2005 and inherited a program on solid footing in 2016. WATCH: Mark Richt praised by rivals Saban, Spurrier, Fulmer Richt was was 145-51 over his 15 seasons at Georgia, his .740 winning percentage second only to Smart’s .762 (32-10). The differences in the disposition of Richt and Smart, Cager indicted, are like fire and ice. “Kirby was an All-SEC performer, so he can relate to you and he’s a player’s coach, he’s a guy you want to play under,” Cager said. “He gets fired up, just like coach (James) Coley.” Coley is the offensive coordinator at Georgia under Smart. But on the front end of Cager’s career, he recruited against his current boss, back when Smart was the defensive coordinator at Alabama. Cager began his career at Miami in 2015 with Coley calling the plays under then-Hurricanes’ head coach Al Golden. But then Golden was fired midway through the season, and Richt took over the Miami after being let go from Georgia following he 2015 season and returned to his alma mater to coach the Hurricanes from 2016-2018. Cager said Richt was much more reserved than what he’s seen from Smart. “With Coach Richt it was like, ‘We’re here to do this and that and handle business,’ ” Cager said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s turn it up!’ Kirby will say ‘Let’s turn it up on them!’ “Coach Richt was more like, ‘Look, we are coming here, it’s Florida State, we know what we have to do, we need to line up and beat them.” Cager said the 43-year-old Smart is personable and comes across as being more invested emotionally than the 59-year-old Richt, who delivered messages in businesslike, matter-of-fact tone. Miami hired Richt to replace Golden after Cager’s freshman season. Cager said most of the players on the Miami football team had a pretty good idea Richt would be the Hurricanes next head coach. “Once Georgia let go of Coach Richt, this is his alma mater and his name kept coming up so we all thought we will hire him,” Cager said. “Once we heard it was us or Virginia, we knew for sure.” Richt changed the culture immediately, Cager said. “Golden came in here from Temple, he was more laid back,” Cager said. “Richt changed everything. We used to wear anything we wanted to practice, but then Coach Richt came in and wanted everyone uniform. It was old school, everyone would look the same, no earrings, the little stuff. “It helped a lot of people in the end. He’s a great guy. We were focused on winning championships, but his mentality was we are here to bring the swag back and it’s all about business.” Now it’s Cager who is all about business. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound receiver is expected to challenge for a starting spot immediately in the Bulldogs’ young receiving corps. DawgNation in South Florida Kenny McIntosh draws comparisons to Sony Michel, Jordan Scarlett Lawrence Cager eager for Georgia touch down ’The Blueprint,’ championship plans for South Florida star The post Fire and ice: Incoming Miami transfer compares Kirby Smart to Mark Richt appeared first on DawgNation.
  • MACON — Jake Fromm grew up and played high school ball 19 miles from the famous Hargray Capitol Theatre in downtown Macon where Kirby Smart was Monday. Fromm’s mother, Lee, works as a nurse in the Coliseum Medical Center, just a mile away across the Ocmulgee River. The Fromm’s family hunting lease is just 19 miles the other side of the hospital over in Plum Creek. So Jake Fromm is a big deal around. Then again, Fromm is pretty much a big deal everywhere these days. So Smart, here to speak at a small gathering of Georgia fans and Georgia Bulldogs Club members, dutifully acknowledged his quarterback and the many other Central Georgia players who dot the Bulldogs’ roster. “We’ve gotten a lot good players from here,” Smart said at the opening of his brief remarks before a crowd of a few hundred. “The guy who takes a snap from center and the guy who snaps it.” Fromm, obviously, is the player who takes the snaps. Trey Hill, who was Fromm’s teammate at Houston County High in Warner Robins, is the center snapping the ball to him. Hill played left tackle most of the time in high school, but did have occasion to snap to Fromm every once in a while. But now he’s the one replacement on Georgia’s heralded offensive line. He must replace graduated senior and NFL draft pick Lamont Gaillard. About that, there’s some question. About Fromm, there is none. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior is considered a All-America candidate and Heisman Trophy as the Bulldogs head into their fourth season under Smart, once again as a Top 5 team. Fromm does so having played in every game, starting all but one and in position to set the school’s all-time record for completion percentage. This year, Fromm will be operating under a new offensive coordinator. James Coley succeeded Jim Chaney in the role after taking over as quarterbacks coach last year. Smart thinks that is a good thing. “I think we’ve got some more quarterback guys around him with Coley working with him and he’s excited about that,” Smart said. “For him, it’s been a transition through the coordinator position where he’s kind of a sponge, he’s got more of an opinion now. He understands what we’re trying to do offensively.” Fromm has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 5,364 yards with 54 touchdowns and 13 interceptions at this point. The thought is the Bulldogs will throw the ball more under Coley, who did that as coordinator at Miami and Florida State. Smart believes Fromm can handle whatever Coley can dish out, and will also have a say-so on what the Bulldogs do as well. “Any time you’ve got a three-year starter,he can give you input on things he likes about the offense, things he dislikes and things he thinks he can be successful,” Smart said. “That input is helpful, it’s always helpful.” The post Kirby Smart expects QB Jake Fromm to have more ‘offensive input’ in 2019 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • MACON —  The biggest applause Kirby Smart got during his 7½-minute speech to a couple of hundred Georgia fans on Monday was when he said that every player slated to return for the Bulldogs had retained their academic eligibility. Smart had said essentially the same thing backstage earlier with regard to the 10 signees in the Class of 2019 that have yet to report to campus. Specifically, there has been a lot of concern and chatter about 5-star wide receiver George Pickens. But while the Georgia coach didn’t address Pickens specifically, he did say he expected all who signed to show up and be eligible when they arrive this summer. Most are expected to arrive at the end of this month and enroll for summer semester, which begins in early June. “We’ve got full expectations that everybody will be there in the summer to practice, to compete,” Smart said. “All of those guys are finishing up, right now they’re in their finals depending on what state they’re in or where they are. I know they’re looking forward to getting into our place and start working.” As for the returning players, Smart acknowledged that the Bulldogs were sweating out the spring semester grades of a more than a few. But, again, he said, there were no academic casualties. “And that’s an accomplishment,” Smart said as applause nearly drowned out his remarks. “As everybody in this room knows, academically at Georgia, it’s an unbelievable place. It’s unbelievably competitive. When you look at the average student coming in with a 32 ACT, a 1,300 SAT, a 4.1 GPA, you know when you walk into the classroom you’ve got to be at the top of your game. And that goes for our players, too.”   The post Kirby Smart says all returning players, all incoming recruits have made the grades to play appeared first on DawgNation.
  • MACON — Georgia fans are thrilled with pretty much everything Georgia football is doing under coach Kirby Smart. There was more evidence to that end as Central Georgia fans of the Bulldogs were lined up down the aisles, out the door and down Second Street to get a “grip-and-grin” picture with the head coach. Basketball coach Tom Crean was also here for the latest stop on the annual and ever-shrinking Coaches Caravan. The Macon Touchdown Club was the lucky recipient to get one of this year’s stops, which last year took the Georgia coaches to Columbus and Savannah on the yearly speaking circuit. But, as always, it was the Georgia football coach that had the crowd abuzz. And he was treated with the same quality as they say The King himself received when he came here. That’d be Elvis Pressley. Smart’s just about as popular after leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back SEC Eastern Division titles, one SEC championship and one National Championship Game appearance in the last two years. And that’s great. But it was Clemson and Alabama, respectively, who have won the last two national championships, not Georgia. So Smart was asked in a 10-minute media briefing before his appearance when the Bulldogs needed to do to get over the hump and past those programs that have been finishing ahead of them. “I think anytime you talk about a hump you think about the little things that you can do better. The details,” Smart said as he stood in a small room behind a stage frequented by The Allman Brothers back in the day. “Whether it’s turnovers, create turnovers. There’s so many things, statistics that we can improve in. that it’s hard to pinpoint anything. I’m certainly excited about this team, I’m excited about the guys we’ve got coming back. I love their work ethic, I love the spring we had, I’m just excited to be able to coach them.” There’s much to be excited about. Georgia is showing up in the Top 5 of virtually every preseason prognostication that is out there (none of which matters), and generally in the top three. But in almost every case, the Bulldogs’ name is found behind the same teams that have been ahead of them in the final polls of the season — Clemson and Alabama. Smart has been outspoken and active about one way he believes Georgia can make up ground, and that’s facilities. Clemson and Alabama both have out-paced UGA in that regard to this point. Even South Carolina recently opened a gleaming $50 million football operations building. But the Bulldogs are closing the gap. Smart and his program have benefited from more than $100 million in improvements with Payne Indoor Athletic Center and the West End renovation at Sanford Stadium. And next up is for Georgia is a new football facility that may cost $80 million before its over. That project is expected to receive some level of approval at the UGA Athletic Association’s Board’s end-of-the-year meeting on St. Simons Island this Friday. Smart is obviously in the loop regarding all those details. But he wasn’t ready to share them on Monday, other than to confirm the plan is build on the current site of Woodruff Practice Fields and the Butts-Mehre Complex. “We’re looking at it on our home base,” he said. “We’re still in the early stages of it. We’re excited about the opportunity we’ve got. I think we’ve got a great location for it. We’re excited about the fundraising that’s going on for it. Matt Borman and the development staff have done a tremendous job raising money for it. That’s really all there is right now.” And that’s what these little tours really all about. Increasingly, UGA has closed them to the public and made them “donor-only” events. But this one was come-one, come-all. All one had to do was register through the Georgia Bulldogs Club. So many Maconites took advantage. This is, after all, an extremely fertile recruiting ground for the Bulldogs. It’s from here, near the state’s central-most city, where Georgia landed Jake Fromm, Malik Herring and Kearis Jackson, among many others. “We’ve got some good kids from this area, I’m excited about each one of those guys,” Smart said. “I know the programs that each one came from, I know what they stand for, the high school coaches in this area do a tremendous job. I got to go to almost every one of those kids’ high school games, whether it was their senior year, sophomore year, junior year. We had a lot of them in camp. They all come from great families, great programs, when you look across the state of Georgia the Middle Georgia area had a lot of state champions, a lot of in-state guys’ championship games. Each one of those kids is going to contribute for us next year. We’re going to continue to recruit this area as well.” And maybe soon, Smart will be able to bring a national championship trophy with him on one of these tours. The post Georgia fans flock to Macon landmark to hear from Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart appeared first on DawgNation.