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CHP First Responders

From left, Sen. Bill Dodd, CHP Flight Officer Paramedic Whitney Lowe, CHP Helicopter Pilot Pete Gavitte, and Rep. Mike Thompson. First Responders Lowe and Gavitte were honored for saving victims in the middle of the night from the October 2017 wildfires.

CALISTOGA — One year after the deadly October 2017 wildfires, federal, state and local representatives met in Calistoga Tuesday to update the public on new fire prevention measures and work still to be done.

State Sen. Bill Dodd hosted a forum at the Calistoga Community Center, a few miles from where the Tubbs Fire started on Bennett Lane the night of Oct. 8. It was among a series of Northern California fires that night that were the most destructive in state history.

Joining Dodd were Representative Mike Thompson, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann, Napa County Chaplain Lee Shaw and Monica Stevens of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch.

In many ways, the fires were a wake-up call for government representatives. Dillon called it “a new day for government with new issues to help in the future. We learned so much, as always happens in these situations.”

Many of the new fire prevention and safety measures have been reported on in local news this past week, including siren alert systems and fire-watch cameras installed around the Napa Valley, which Dillon spoke about. She also encouraged residents to use evacuation tags, issued by the county, to be placed on mailboxes or doors to notify first responders that a residence has been vacated in an emergency.

Canning described a city-wide siren system that Calistoga is actively pursuing. “It’s about as old-school as you can get, but a lot of us sleep with our phones turned off, and it is the most effective,” he said.

Asked for an update on Clover Flat Landfill in Calistoga, the site of five fires within the last year, Biermann said the owners of the landfill “have met the most stringent requirements and … everything we asked for is in place.”

Thompson noted that in “hyper-partisan times” it has been a little difficult securing federal funds for fire recovery efforts, but said that the last approval has been met for Lake County fire relief at 90 percent of costs shared.

Dodd discussed his wildfire legislation, SB 901, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September.

The bill broadly expands state prevention efforts while allowing utility companies to shift some fire-related costs to their customers. It is aimed at preventing bankruptcy for PG&E, which faces billions of dollars in liability if investigators determine its equipment caused the Tubbs Fire that was blown by strong winds into Santa Rosa, destroying 36,000 acres, more than 5,600 homes and killing 22 people before being contained Oct. 31.

The controversial bill — critics call it a bailout for PG&E investors who can pass the costs of their negligence on to ratepayers and victims of the fires — creates a special process for the 2017 fires, which caused more than $10 billion in damage.

According to the bill, if PG&E is blamed for the most destructive fires and passes along costs to customers, they’ll appear as a surcharge on monthly utility bills for the next 20 years.

The cost is unknown because it’s not clear which fires will ultimately be linked to PG&E and what its final settlement will look like, but Dodd said the average residential ratepayer would pay an estimated $5 for every $1 billion dollars that PG&E must finance.

“I take real exception (to calling the bill a bailout). The bill prevents victims from becoming victims again,” Dodd said. “If PG&E files for bankruptcy, the ratepayers get hammered.”

“Five dollars is better than all costs borne in case of bankruptcy. I welcome any suggestions to hold the utilities’ feet closer to the fire,” Dodd said.

The bill also boosts government fire-protection efforts by $1 billion over the next five years, providing funds that could help clear thousands of acres of dense, dry forests and brittle coastal brush, for forest health, fire prevention and reduction of “fuel.”

Looking towards the future, residents can expect more fire-related legislation, Dodd said.

Another key issue government representatives at all levels must solve is bilingual translation in emergency systems and the current lack of it.

“It’s really been challenging,” Dillon said.

To date, English-to-Spanish translators have disagreed on details such as what level of speaker to translate to, which eventually will have to be standardized statewide, Dillon said.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at or 942-4035.


The Weekly Calistogan Editor