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California Wildfire of 2017 Caused By Homeowner Equipment: Agency

In the report released Thursday by the state, one witness reported seeing a transformer explode. Another reported seeing the fire approach a PG&E power pole.

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California
An aerial view of properties destroyed by the Tubbs Fire is seen in Santa Rosa, California, Oct. 11, 2017. VOA

In a long-awaited report, state investigators said Thursday that a 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people in Northern California wine country was caused by a private electrical system, not equipment belonging to embattled Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.

The state firefighting agency concluded that the blaze started next to a residence. It did not find any violations of state law.

“I eliminated all other causes for the Tubbs Fire, with the exception of an electrical caused fire originating from an unknown event affecting privately owned conductor or equipment,” CalFire Battalion Chief John Martinez wrote in his report.

Some details about the property, including its owner and address, were blacked out of the report. It said the Napa County property about 3 miles (5 kilometers) north of Calistoga was built in 1946 on about 10.5 acres (4.2 hectares) with a wine cellar, pool and several outbuildings.

Wildfire
A statue stands among the remains of a home destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 10, 2017. VOA

PG&E said in a Jan. 2 court filing that it believed a handyman performing unlicensed electrical work started the wine country fire. In that filing, it identified the owner of the Napa County compound as Ann Zink. The utility said it provided electricity to Zink’s property by a line that connected to a service riser but that Zink had a private system to carry power to other buildings as well as equipment such as a water pump and water storage tank.

PG&E said it had no responsibility to maintain or inspect the private system.

Zink, 91, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017 that her house was unoccupied at the time of the fire and she was at her other home in Riverside County when the blaze began.

PG&E bankruptcy filing

The Tubbs Fire was one of more than 170 that torched the state in October 2017. It destroyed more than 5,600 structures over more than 57 square miles (148 sq. kilometers) in Sonoma and Napa counties.

PG&E previously said it plans to file for bankruptcy protection next week, citing billions of dollars in potential damages from lawsuits linking its equipment to other deadly blazes for which it has been determined to be at fault.

Fire, CLimate Change, California, fossil fuels
Firefighters battle a wildfire as it threatens to jump a street near Oroville, California. VOA

The company said in a statement that despite Thursday’s finding, PG&E “still faces extensive litigation, significant potential liabilities and a deteriorating financial situation.”

Gov. Gavin Newson said it’s up to PG&E to decide whether to move ahead with a planned bankruptcy given that more than half of its expected damages stemmed from the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

He said his goal is not to rescue PG&E but to make sure victims are made whole, that the state has “safe, reliable and affordable service” and that rate payers “are not paying the price of the neglect” that has been established in past wildfires.

Newsom also said he doubts the report will end litigation related to the wildfire.

Michael Kelly, an attorney for victims of the fire, said the findings wouldn’t have much effect on the lawsuits he has filed.

“We’re going to stick by our guns,” Kelly said, adding that there are still questions about why PG&E didn’t cut power to the area despite a high fire danger. He said there is also evidence that contradicts the findings of state fire investigators.

California, Fire prevention, wildfires
A firefighter sprays the smoldering remains of a vehicle on Interstate 5 as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, VOA

Reform, compensation

Trading of PG&E Corp. stock was halted twice after news about the cause of the fire prompted a surge of buy orders. Once trading resumed, the price rocketed up, closing up $5.96, or nearly 75 percent, at $13.35 a share.

A state senator said that just because a private electric line caused the wine country fire does not let the utility off the hook for the role of its equipment in other devastating fires in the state.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, cited system-wide issues plaguing California’s largest utility.

Lawmakers are under pressure to find a solution that addresses utility reform and compensates wildfire victims.

Also Read: urance Claims From California’s Wildfire At $9 Billion

“This underscores the idea that we all have a role to play in wildfire prevention,” said Dodd a frequent critic of PG&E, who noted that the company has already been found at fault for more than a dozen other Northern California wildfires.

In the report released Thursday by the state, one witness reported seeing a transformer explode. Another reported seeing the fire approach a PG&E power pole.

One witness, Charlie Brown Jr. of Calistoga, said the electrical wiring leading from the property where investigators concluded the fire started had not been used in years. (VOA)

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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Church
The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

Also Read: Practice What You Preach: Celebrities Should Stand By Their Public Image In Private Domain

It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)