San Francisco Chronicle | By Joaquin Palomino and David R. Baker

Just before 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, a tree branch fell into a power line in the town of Kenwood east of Santa Rosa as sparks were scattered by heavy winds. Local emergency officials contacted Pacific Gas and Electric Co., asking the utility to immediately evaluate the damage because of the evening’s dangerous fire conditions.

It was one of the first reported electrical disturbances in Sonoma County the night that numerous fires erupted across the North Bay, and would prove a harbinger of things to come.

As the night progressed, county dispatchers recorded 111 fire and medical emergencies, from a thick smell of smoke near the coast to flames scorching a creek trail in central Santa Rosa. Nearly half of those incidents mentioned downed or sparking power lines, blown transformers or other concerns with PG&E’s equipment, a Chronicle review of dispatch logs shows.

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State regulators have released previously withheld details in reports filed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. revealing the exact location of damaged transmission equipment found near the ignition points of the wildfires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties in October.

The documents — including the precise address and specific types of damaged equipment — provide new information about the proximity of PG&E equipment to the origins of the deadly Oct. 8 fires.
Cal Fire officials say their investigation is not complete, and PG&E officials stressed no causes of the fires have been identified. Nevertheless, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against PG&E alleging the fires were sparked when gale force winds sent overgrown tree limbs crashing into powerlines.

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While the Pacific Northwest is enjoying benign, moist weather, strong winds continue to hit California.  For example, here are the maximum gusts above 35 mph) for the 24-h ending 9 AM this morning (Sunday).  A number of locations both in central/northern and southern CA hit that threshold, with several exceeding 50 mph (red colors)

Southern California is particularly impressive, with 50-70 mph gusts observed both east and west of LA.  LA itself is somewhat protected by the higher section of the San Gabriel mountains.

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Associated Press | SAN FRANCISCO — Devastating California wildfires this year — and expectations of more to come under the extremes of climate change — prompted regulators Thursday to toughen rules for utility companies to keep power lines clear of brush and tree branches that can easily spark into flames.

Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker called the regulations adopted unanimously by the board “a major rewrite” of the state’s fire-prevention rules for utilities as climate change drives up wildfire risks in much of California.

In a year when the state’s fire season threatens to go year-round, state officials “accept and acknowledge that the scope of the problem is changing,’ Picker said.

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A tug-of-war is brewing over whether Sonoma County or San Francisco courts should handle the thousands of wildfire lawsuits expected to emerge against PG&E.

Lawyers representing one group of plaintiffs argue San Francisco is a better venue because the court is larger and has the administrative capacity for more complex cases. They have petitioned the California Judicial Council to appoint one San Francisco judge to oversee all pretrial matters including depositions, hearings and evidence disputes.

But other lawyers seeking damages against PG&E say the cases belong in Sonoma County where the fires charred about 100,000 acres, destroyed 4,000 homes and killed 23 people. They are seeking to block a move across the Golden Gate to PG&E’s headquarters city with their own Judicial Council motion.

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Paul Payne | The Press Democrat

As the number of October wildfire lawsuits against PG&E swelled close to 40, a group of Santa Rosa lawyers filed legal papers Friday seeking to consolidate them all in Sonoma County Superior Court.

The request made to the Judicial Council of California opposes a separate effort from a Southern California-based lawyer to have the cases overseen by a San Francisco court.

It argues the lawsuits belong in Sonoma County, where fires burned 137 square miles, killed 24 people and destroyed 5,130 homes. The most devastating of the blazes, the Tubbs fire, roared into northern Santa Rosa, wiping out whole neighborhoods from Fountaingrove to Coffey Park.

“The fact is this is a Sonoma County tragedy,” said attorney John Cox. “It’s where the evidence is located and where the witnesses are. It should be handled by Sonoma County courts.”

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PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.

Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.

Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.

Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.

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The brother of a paraplegic woman who was killed when the Tubbs fire destroyed her assisted living center in Santa Rosa sued PG&E Thursday in what appears to be the first wrongful death claim connected to the recent wildfires.

Tamara Latrice Thomas, 47, was burned to death Oct. 9 inside the Crestview Court Residential Care Home on Crestview Court in the city’s hard-hit Coffey Park neighborhood. Officials have not yet publicly identified her as one of the 23 people known to have died in fires across Sonoma County that burned about 100,000 acres and leveled almost 4,000 homes.

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Residents of fire-ravaged Journey’s End Mobile Home Park will soon be allowed back into the property at the north end of Santa Rosa, possibly as soon as Thursday, but the bigger question — whether they will ever be able to call it home again — remains unanswered.

Owners of the property, a haven for low-income seniors since the 1960s, have yet to decide whether they will restore the burned-out water, gas, power and sewer systems that serve the 161 sites rented by residents who own their homes.

“The future is unclear,” said Greg Evans, president of the Santa Cruz-based company that manages the park on behalf of the owners, a family Evans declined to name. “We are trying to assess the options.”

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