PG&E settles wildfire claims with insurers for $11 billion

(Reuters) – PG&E Corp said on Friday it has reached an $11 billion settlement to resolve most claims by insurance carriers related to 2017 and 2018 wildfires in California.

It is the second major settlement of wildfire claims by PG&E, and requires approval by the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the utility’s Chapter 11 case.

PG&E said proceedings on the third and final major group of wildfire claims remain pending in federal and state courts.

It said the latest settlement is related to payments made by insurers to individuals and businesses with coverage for wildfire damage.

Representatives of holders of 85% of so-called subrogation claims said the latest accord does not fully satisfy its $20 billion in claims, but would “pave the way for a plan of reorganization that allows PG&E to fairly compensate all victims and emerge from Chapter 11 by the June 2020 legislative deadline.”

Subrogation allows insurers that pay policyholders for insured losses to recoup sums from third parties they deem responsible for them.

The company also amended its equity financing commitment agreements to accommodate the claims, and reaffirmed its $14 billion equity financing commitment target for its reorganization plan.

In June, PG&E agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve claims by 18 local public entities related to wildfires in 2015, 2017, and 2018.

On Monday, the company unveiled the outlines of a reorganization plan that would pay $17.9 billion for claims stemming from the wildfires that led to its bankruptcy in January.

At the time of its Chapter 11 filing, PG&E projected more than $30 billion in liabilities from wildfires, including last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire of California’s modern history.

The plan filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco includes up to $8.4 billion for wildfire victims, payments capped at $8.5 billion for reimbursing insurers, and the $1 billion settlement with local governments.

On Tuesday, a lawyer representing wildfire victims called the $8.4 billion cap “totally unacceptable” because government agencies could have billions of dollars in claims, leaving far less than $8.4 billion for victims.

PG&E shares were up 7.8% in early afternoon trading, after earlier rising as much as 9.8%.

(Reporting by Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Shinjini Ganguli)

Number of people believed missing in California wildfire drops to three

FILE PHOTO: Stanley Miniszewski Sr. uses a burnt golf club to look for a pair of expensive dentures in the remains of his RV after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced him to evacuate as his friend Merrill Jackson looks on at Pine Ridge Park in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

(Reuters) – The number of people unaccounted for in California’s deadliest wildfire dropped to just three, down from a high of more than 1,200, officials said late on Monday.

The death toll from the so-called Camp Fire remains at 85, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.

The fire started in November 8 and was fully contained by November 25. It all but obliterated the mountain community of Paradise, home to more than 27,000 people about 175 miles north of San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters move debris while recovering human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters move debris while recovering human remains from a trailer home destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Of the dead, 50 have positively identified and 31 have been tentatively identified, officials said.

No human remains have been found since early December, but the search will continue, officials said.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. The electricity utility PG&E Corp reported equipment problems near the origin of the fire around the time it began.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Heat, winds pose enduring menace to burning Northern California

FILE PHOTO: A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo

By Rich McKay and Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – With gusting winds, triple digit temperatures and almost zero chance of rain in Northern California this week, scorching weather poses a persistent threat to firefighters battling out-of-control blazes on parched land, officials said.

“Unfortunately, they’re not going to get a break anytime soon,” said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s pretty doggone hot and dry and it’s going to stay that way,” Hurley said early Monday.

Some areas in Central and Northern California could see 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) and winds of 15 mph (24 kph) with higher gusts that could fan the flames and spread embers, he said.

A massive, out-of-control Northern California wildfire called the Mendocino Complex Fire that destroyed 68 homes and forced thousands to flee has become the fifth largest in state history, officials said on Sunday, as crews battled high temperatures and strong winds.

It has charred more than 266,900 acres (108010.6 hectares) as of late Sunday, making it the fifth largest blaze in California’s history, officials said.

The Mendocino is one of 17 major wildfires burning across California that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to declare a “major disaster” in the state, ordering federal funding to be made available to help recovery efforts.

Trump said on his official Twitter account Sunday, “California wildfires are being magnified, made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

Another fire, the nearly two-week-old Carr Fire, claimed another life Saturday, a 21-year-old apprentice lineman, Jay Ayeta, officials with the PG&E Corporation said on Sunday.

Ayeta died when his vehicle crashed as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain to battle in Shasta County.

He was the seventh person to die in that blaze, which has scorched more than 160,000 acres in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento, including two young children and their great-grandmother whose home was overrun by flames, and two firefighters.

Firefighters had managed to contain 43 percent of the Carr blaze by late Sunday, and authorities were letting some evacuees return.

(Reporting by Rich McKay and Dan Whitcomb, Editing by William Maclean)

California wildfire rages toward scenic coastal communities

Firefighters knock down flames as they advance on homes atop Shepherd Mesa Road in Carpinteria, California, U.S. December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire

 

By Phoenix Tso

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Reuters) – A massive California wildfire that has already destroyed nearly 800 structures scorched another 56,000 acres on Sunday, making it the fifth largest such blaze in recorded state history, as it ran toward picturesque coastal cities.But fire officials said as darkness fell that with the hot, dry Santa Ana winds not as fierce as expected, crews had been successful in building some fire lines between the flames and the towns of Montecito and Carpinteria.

“This is a menacing fire, certainly, but we have a lot of people working very diligently to bring it under control,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told an evening press conference.

Still, some 5,000 residents remained under evacuation orders in the two communities, near Santa Barbara and about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Los Angeles. Some 15,000 homes were considered threatened.

The Thomas Fire, the worst of six major blazes in Southern California in the last week and already the fifth largest in the state since 1932, has blackened 230,000 acres (570,000 hectares), more than the area of New York City. It has destroyed 790 houses, outbuildings and other structures and left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.

The combination of Santa Ana winds and rugged terrain in the mountains that run through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have hampered firefighting efforts, and officials said the Thomas Fire was only 10 percent contained on Sunday evening, down from 15 percent earlier in the day.

But wind gusts recorded at 35-40 miles per hour were less than those predicted by forecasters, giving crews a chance to slow the flames’ progress down slopes above the endangered communities.

The fires burning across Southern California have forced the evacuation of more 200,000 people and destroyed some 1,000 structures.

Among them are residents of Montecito, one of the state’s wealthiest enclave and home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey.

Molly-Ann Leikin, an Emmy-winning songwriter who was ordered to evacuate her Montecito home at 9 a.m. on Sunday, said she fled with only her cell phone, medication, eyeglasses and a few apples.

Leikin, 74, said she doesn’t know the condition of her home and belongings but “none of that means anything when it is your safety.”

WORST IN A DECADE

The fires that began last Monday night collectively amounted to one of the worst conflagrations across Southern California in the last decade. They have, however, been far less deadly than the blazes in Northern California’s wine country in October that killed over 40.

In the last week, only one death has been reported, a 70-year-old woman who died Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County. Scores of horses have died, including at least 46 at a thoroughbred training facility in San Diego county.

Residents and firefighters alike have been alarmed by the speed with which the fires spread, reaching into the heart of cities like Ventura.

At the Ventura County Fairgrounds, evacuees slept in makeshift beds while rescued horses were sheltered in stables.

Peggy Scissons, 78, arrived at the shelter with her dog last Wednesday, after residents of her mobile home park were forced to leave. She has not yet found out whether her home is standing.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen next or whether I’ll be able to go home,” she said. “It would be one thing if I were 40 or 50, but I’m 78. What the heck do I do?”

James Brown, 57, who retired from Washington State’s forestry service and has lived in Ventura for a year, was forced to leave his house along with his wife last week because both have breathing problems.

“We knew a fire was coming, but we didn’t know it would be this bad,” said Brown, who is in a wheelchair.

Some of the other fires, in San Diego and Los Angeles counties, have been largely controlled by the thousands of firefighters on the ground this week.

Both the Creek and Rye fires in Los Angeles County were 90 percent contained by Sunday morning, officials said, while the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles’ posh Bel Air neighborhood was 75 percent contained.

North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre (1,660 hectare) Lilac Fire was 75 percent contained by Sunday and most evacuation orders had been lifted.

(Reporting by Phoenix Tso; Additional reporting by Mike Blake in San Diego and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Joseph Ax and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken)

Lloyd’s of London estimates Maria claims of $900 mln, cuts Harvey, Irma estimates

Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LONDON (Reuters) – Lloyd’s of London estimated net claims of $900 million for Hurricane Maria, which caused devastation in Puerto Rico last month, the specialist insurance market said on Monday.

Lloyd’s also revised down its net claims estimates for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the United States in recent weeks, to $3.9 billion from initial estimates of $4.5 billion.

Insurers and reinsurers are counting the costs of the three hurricanes, which together with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California, are adding up to a heavy year for natural catastrophe losses.

Lloyd’s said it had already paid $900 million in claims for the three hurricanes.

“We are experiencing one of the most active hurricane seasons this century,” Jon Hancock, Lloyd’s performance management director said.

“While it is clear that these catastrophes will bear a heavy toll, the claims are spread across the entire Lloyd’s market, which has total net financial resources of 28 billion pounds ($36.92 billion).”

Hancock said that while Lloyd’s was cutting its earlier estimates for Harvey and Irma, “this is a developing situation and there continues to be a high degree of uncertainty around any claims estimate”.

 

 

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; editing by Maiya Keidan)