California wildfires: Authorities release list of missing persons and a lawsuit is filed against PG&E

The death toll from two California wildfires has now reached 50 and authorities in northern California have released a list of missing persons, most of them elderly people who lived in Paradise, CA. From CNN:

Most of the 103 people listed missing by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office are from Paradise, a town of 27,000 north of Sacramento first ravaged by the fire Thursday morning.

At least 73 of the missing are 65 or older.

“In an effort to better inform the public, this list of reported missing persons is being provided,” a message on the sheriff’s website says. “If you see anyone on the list who is no longer missing please contact us so their name can be removed.”

The Camp Fire has killed at least 48 people since it began last week, and Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory L. Honea said he expects more bodies will be found.

Given the severity of the destruction in Paradise and the speed at which the fire overtook people, I’m not expecting all of these people on the list to be found alive somewhere, though hopefully, some will be. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the story of one 90-year-old man who was helped into a freezing lake by neighbors to survive the fire:

Among those saved was 90-year-old Bruno. Scott’s son, Michael, helped their older neighbor from his home and into the reservoir, though he wasn’t sure he could survive the dip.

“Bruno was saying, ‘Just leave me. I can’t do this,’” Scott recalled. “I said, ‘Bruno, we’re not going to leave you. And I’m not going to burn, so you better hurry.’”

As I’ve mentioned before, the exact cause of the fires in northern and southern California have not been determined, yet. But in both cases there is suspicion that downed electrical lines may have been the cause. Tuesday a group of survivors of the Camp Fire filed a lawsuit Pacific Gas and Electric claiming poor maintenance of the lines was responsible for the fire. From Reuters:

The lawsuit alleged that PG&E failed to properly maintain, repair and replace its equipment and that “its inexcusable behavior contributed to the cause of the ‘Camp Fire.’”

The lawsuit alleges that prior to the Camp Fire, PG&E began warning customers it might turn off power because of the high risk of wildfires.

“Despite its own recognition of these impending hazardous conditions, on the day of the Camp Fire’s ignition, PG&E ultimately made the decision not to proceed with its plans for a power shutoff,” the lawsuit stated.

PG&E has said a power line shorted in the area where the fire was believed to have started at about the time it is believed to have started but investigators have not had a chance to determine the exact cause yet. Another Paradise, CA resident who was not part of the first group to sue the utility company said she plans to do so. From the Sacramento Bee:

Zimmerman, a real estate appraiser, works for a California law firm that has repeatedly filed class action lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric and other utility companies, alleging their equipment failures caused many of California’s horrific string of recent wildfires.

“You betcha,” Zimmerman said while buying furniture for a rental home in Yuba City, where she and her husband will live with two daughters who also lost their homes when the Camp Fire stormed through. The blaze destroyed an estimated 90 percent of residences and has taken 42 lives as of the official count on Monday.

“If it was PG&E or whomever, I’m going to sue whoever was taking their stupid a– bonuses instead of taking care of what they were supposed to take care of,” she said.

In response to the first lawsuit, PG&E issues a statement saying, “There has been no determination of the cause of the fire. Right now, we are doing everything we can to support the communities and first responders.” That’s still accurate for now but what happens if a power line is found to be responsible? Could lawsuits bankrupt the utility? And if so, what does that mean for people who hope to return to Paradise and rebuild once the fires are out?

Finally, here’s one story of a woman who thought she was going to die in the fire but who is now searching for her missing father, hoping he somehow survived: