Twenty-one months ago, the Butte Fire broke out near Charamuga Ranch and Butte Mountain roads, east of Jackson in Amador County.
The blaze blew up, jumped the Mokelumne River and became one of the worst disasters in Calaveras County history. Before fire agencies declared the blaze contained, it burned more than 110 square miles of watersheds, destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes, 368 outbuildings, and four commercial properties. It killed two residents who decided not to evacuate, and it scared thousands more. Total damage in Calaveras County was estimated at more than $1 billion.
This week, the county’s Butte Fire Recovery team is touting the number of Butte Fire hazard trees that have been cut down: 8,433. Sharon Torrence, a Calaveras County public information officer, said that means 99 percent of the burned trees left standing in the wake of the Butte Fire have been felled.
Torrence also says workers have hauled off 63 percent of those cut-down trees, more than 5,300, to be chipped at a facility in Wallace, about 20 miles west of Mokelumne Hill. The chipped debris then gets trucked 50-some miles southeast to the 20-megawatt Pacific Ultrapower biomass plant outside Chinese Camp in Tuolumne County, where the chips are burned to create electricity.
That leaves more than 3,100 cut hazard trees that burned in the Butte Fire still lying on the ground, according to Calaveras County calculations.
Workers have been cutting Butte Fire hazard trees from public right-of-ways next to roads as well as from private properties. A number of uncut hazard trees are still standing in the massive Butte Fire burn.
“Location and complexity of the remaining trees makes the job of taking them down difficult and time consuming,” Torrence said in an announcement this week.
Torrence estimates the remaining Butte Fire hazard trees still standing represent 1 percent of all the destroyed trees left standing by the massive conflagration. According to Calaveras County calculations, that works out to about 80 to 85 hazard trees still standing out there in the burn.
Six crews are still cutting downed trees into logs and hauling them to Wallace for chipping, Torrence said.
In April last year, Cal Fire investigators confirmed contact between a live tree and a Pacific Gas & Electric power line near Charamuga Ranch and Butte Mountain roads is what sparked the Butte Fire. An investigation report by Gianni Muschetto with Cal Fire’s Amador-El Dorado Unit blamed PG&E of San Francisco and its Los Angeles-based subcontractors ACRT Inc., and Trees Inc.
Hundreds of Calaveras County residents and Butte Fire survivors have sued the utility giant and its subcontractors. Cal Fire officials said more than a year ago they intend to bill PG&E more than $90 million for firefighting costs.