The Sulphur Fire, which is part of the Mendocino Lake Complex, started at approximately 11:59 p.m. on October 8, 2017. The fire originated along Sulphur Bank Road off Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks, near the Clearlake city limits at Clearlake Park. The fire quickly spread to the Elem Colony and into the city of Clearlake. The fire blazed for 19 consecutive days till it was fully contained on October 27, 2017.
Fire Agencies and Personnel
To extinguish the fire required 493 firefighters on the scene with assistance from the following state and local agencies:
- Lake County Fire Department
- Lake County Sheriff’s Office
- CAL OES
- California Highway Patrol
- United States Forest Service
- California National Guard
- Bureau of Indian Affairs
- American Red Cross
The fire perimeter partially straddles Sulphur Bank Ridge, a prominent, roughly east-west trending ridge that creates a peninsula projecting into Clear Lake. Along the northern flank of Sulphur Bank Ridge and within the fire perimeter is the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine Superfund Site managed by the U.S. EPA.
Damage to Community
The Sulphur Fire’s impact on Lake County neighborhoods and business districts has been severe. 2,200 acres burned, 140 homes were destroyed, hundreds of persons were evacuated and dozens of businesses were forced to close.
Cause of Fire and PG&E
The cause of the blaze is under investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Fire. Notably, PG&E’s management of its electrical infrastructure and its maintenance of high voltage wires and poles is being evaluated, and information has emerged showing that PG&E may be at fault. In 2015, PG&E was found to have caused the Butte Fire in Amador County which claimed two lives, burned over 70,000 acres and destroyed over 921 structures. The cause was a poorly maintained tree that came into contact with a power line.
It appears that in this instance, PG&E’s maintenance of equipment is again an issue. In PG&E’s own Electric Safety Incident report filed with the CPUC and posted on its website, PG&E states, “Cause of Incident: Other (Other Cause: broken pole).” According to the PG&E report, at 11:55 p.m. on October 8, less than an hour before the fire, it received a report of a broken pole incident near Pomo Road and Sulphur Bank Road in Clearlake. Specifically, the report states the following: “PG&E identified two broken poles on the Redbud 1102 (12kV) Circuit near Pomo Rd. and Sulphur Bank Rd. The top section of Fuse Cutout Pole 1447 had broken and fallen to the ground. Additionally, a pole one span to the west was burned and had also fallen to the ground. Cal Fire has taken possession of the top section of Fuse Cutout Pole 1447 that fell to the ground, as well as the bottom portion of the same pole where the break occurred (above the communication conductors).”
Watershed Emergency Response Team Assessment
Because a fire the magnitude of the Sulphur Fire can result in post-fire dangers to persons and the environment, the area was evaluated by Watershed Emergency Response Team, a group of geologists, engineers, hydrologists, and foresters. The WERT prepared this report of their findings. The WERT team noted that a primary concern for burned watersheds is the increased potential for damaging flood flows and increased probability for landslides and debris flow occurrence.
It is therefore recommended that all homeowners speak to a qualified professional to determine any health-safety and environmental risks, including flooding, landslides and rock fall, that now exist because of the fire. Additionally, public health information for residents or individuals in the area of the Sulphur fire can be found here.
What to Do
It is recommended that all homeowners speak to a qualified professional to determine any health-safety and environmental risks, including flooding, landslides and rock fall, that now exist because of the fire.
Further, if you’ve been impacted by the Sulphur Fire, document all of your expenses since the fire, including medical bills, lodging and all additional costs incurred due to relocation. Track all damage to real property and personal property through a diary and photographs. If you have not yet contacted your insurance company, do so as soon as possible.
For a free consultation or if you have any questions, we welcome your call to this office.