Calif. Wildfires Leveling Homes, Infrastructure

Calif. Wildfires Leveling Homes, Infrastructure

[Updated 10/14/17] California’s wildfires have reportedly claimed 36 lives  in Napa and Sonoma County’s wine country after laying waste to homes, businesses and utilities with a swift and brutal devastation in what is becoming annus horribilis for major swaths of the region’s and nation’s infrastructure from natural disasters.

Some 3,500 businesses and homes went up in flames since the fires broke out on Sunday and hundreds are still missing.

“It’s an extremely stressful and challenging time,” said Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci to the L.A. Times. “We are all hands on deck.”

“The two biggest and most destructive fires had consumed more than 70,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties by Wednesday morning, up from 52,000 on Tuesday afternoon, according to Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency,” the New York Times reported Wednesday. “In all, six fires had burned more than 91,000 acres in the two counties, and Cal Fire rated all but the smallest of them as 3 percent contained, or less.”

Officials are reportedly looking into whether downed power lines could have sparked the blaze amid the historically October dry season in Northern California.

“There were some reports of sparking power lines and other electrical equipment problems over the weekend,” the New York Times reported. “And poor power-line maintenance by the main utility in Northern California, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, has been blamed for some past wildfires.”

PG&E has a spotty history in infrastructure disasters. The San Bruno natural gas pipeline is one recent case in point. A federal jury in 2016 found the utility, California’s largest, guilty of “violating pipeline safety regulations before a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area and then misleading investigators about how it was identifying high-risk pipelines.” The explosion killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

We will learn more as the investigation into the wildfires unfolds. But what a year 2017 has become for infrastructure rebuilding.

Working backwards, Puerto Rico’s tax base has been flattened after Hurricane Maria hit the island territory, wreaking an estimated $90 billion in damages. Between the military response and FEMA staff, some 17,000 officials are working to get the island’s critical infrastructure back online. It will take months and years to rebuild.

In Southeast Texas, the cleanup is just getting underway after Hurricane Harvey wreaked the greater Houston area, which  Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has called “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced.”

And Florida is just getting started in its rebuilding after Hurricane Irma hit the region and has so far eased certain regulations in counties in FEMA’s disaster declaration zone.

It’s a picture of heartbreaking devastation for the families who lost loved ones and property in the fast-moving fires.

A rough year for infrastructure, but heralding a big year ahead for rebuilding infrastructure.

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