Sturm und drang near Clear Lake

Aug 4, 2015

The fire at Clear Lake has already burned about 94 square miles and still is far from containment. It's the Fire From Hell that authorities across the state feared as the drought-parched state awaited fire season.


From Julia Prodis Sulek in the Mercury News: "This is the blaze that firefighters have braced for all year, the ferocious Rocky Fire burning near Clear Lake that has destroyed more than two dozen homes and hit with the kind of force long-dreaded because of California's historic drought."


"On Monday, it had grown to more than 62,000 acres -- nearly the size of Sacramento at 94 square miles -- and more than doubled the total acreage burned by wildfires throughout the state so far this year."


"Throughout California's forests, vegetation is so dry and so dense that flying embers, which in wetter years would fizzle out, are igniting at the mere touch of grass or shrub. As one UC Berkeley scientist who studies the Sierra puts it, the forests "are primed and ready to go."


Out on the fire line near the town of Clearlake, the fast-growing, swift-moving Rocky fire leaped across Highway 20 and sent firefighters sacrambling.


The Chronicle's Peter Fimrite tells the tale: "Firefighters made a dramatic stand Monday against the massive Rocky Fire, using Highway 20, north of the city of Clearlake, as a natural break to stop the advancing flames, but the largest of more than a dozen blazes in California jumped the highway anyway, forcing state fire officials to scramble for a new strategy.

The wind shifted unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon, blowing hot embers north over the firefighters’ heads and into the dry grasslands."


"They ignited numerous spot fires, which spread as if shot from a flamethrower, according to fire crew members. Soon, the ridgeline across the highway was engulfed. Plumes of smoke rose toward the sky as firefighters rushed to catch up, helicopters dropped buckets of water and commanders regrouped."


Meanwhile, the reports on lobbying and special interest spending are out, and the money is flowing freely. As Sam Spade said in the Maltese Falcon, "That's a lot of dough."


From the Bee's Jeremy White: "Organizations representing hospitals, service employees and oil companies have spent the most money lobbying Sacramento officials in 2015, according to disclosures filed with the California secretary of state’s office."


"Leading the pack – and spending more than twice as much as the next interest group – was the California Hospital Association ($6.9 million), followed by the California State Council of Service Employees ($3 million) and the Western States Petroleum Organization ($2.5 million). Rounding out the top five are the California Chamber of Commerce ($2.1 million), whose annual list of “job-killer” bills carries significant heft, and San Ramon-based oil giant Chevron ($1.5 million)."


"In addition to illuminating who is spending big to influence policymakers, the newly filed disclosures offer a power ranking of Sacramento lobbying firms. The five leading firms by payment received have pulled in a combined $13.5 million."

Speaking of money, California's political watchdog has decided to investigate the money trail of funds that were raised at at a disputed event to honor former PUC President Michael Peevey, who resigned amid scandal. 


From the U-T's Jeff McDonald: "The California Fair Political Practices Commission has opened a formal investigation into the state’s top utility regulator, who has yet to disclose the final recipient of tens of thousands of dollars he solicited for a February tribute dinner."


"The soiree honored former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, and funds were raised in the name of his successor, Michael Picker. Picker initially disclosed that the money would go to the University of California Berkeley, but the institution declined as a criminal investigation into Peevey heated up."


"The funds were redirected elsewhere, but Picker has yet to say where. State officials told The San Diego Union-Tribune in June that such a disclosure would be required. In July, the agency said it was reviewing the matter for possible investigation.Spokesman Jay Wierenga provided this update last week: “What I can tell you publicly, on the record, is that the case is an open investigation.”


State water authorities want California's top cop to decide whether to take action in the case of the ruptured Santa Barbara oil line that fouled some beaches.


From Reuters' Sharon Bernstein: "California water quality regulators have asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris to consider enforcement action against the owner of an oil pipeline that ruptured near Santa Barbara in May, spilling petroleum onto beaches and the Pacific Ocean."


"The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board said on Monday that it had referred the incident near Refugio State Beach to the state's top prosecutor, who under the law could seek penalties of up to $25,000 per day of violation, plus $25 for every gallon of oil spilled."


"The Water Board will work closely with the Attorney General's office to make sure all those responsible for the Refugio spill face the strongest enforcement measures allowed by law," Board Chair Jean-Pierre Wolff said in a news release."


On Monday, President Obama announced his plan to curb greenhouse gases over the next 15 years, and the Golden State is well ahead of the game.


From the LAT's Tony Barboza: "The Clean Power Plan announced Monday poses significant challenges for states that rely on coal-fired power plants for much of their electricity, but complying with the rules will be a breeze for California. That's because the state has practically eliminated coal from its energy portfolio and leads the nation with the toughest regulations to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet."


"California officials said Monday that their existing climate change programs put the state on course to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon-dioxide emissions target years ahead of schedule..."


"Nationwide, the new climate change regulations are expected to cut the electricity sector's greenhouse gas emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to EPA estimates. The rules, issued under the federal Clean Air Act, give each state its own pollution reduction goal and allow each to choose the measures it will use to comply."


And finally, from our "Bombs Away" file, comes word that U.S. B-52s have bombed Australia. Well, sort of....Actually, they were trying to get China's attention.


"Two B-52 bombers flew 44 hours non-stop from Louisiana to the Northern Territory on a simulated bombing run last month — all to deliver a message to China."


"The lumbering, 1950s vintage dinosaurs lifted off from the Barksdale Air Force Basein Louisiana, United States, on July 1. Their mission: to be BAAD."


"That’s military speak for yet more military speak: “bomber assurance and deterrence”. Translated, it means sending a message to Australia and the nations of South East Asia that the United States is willing and capable of assisting its allies."


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