Kathinka and Neil McKeown lost their Mokelumne Hill home in the 2015 Butte Fire, and they and their two children, ages 5 years and 11 months, and their two dogs weighing 150 pounds each, are all still living in a trailer on their lot on Peregrine Road.
They invested their savings to rebuild their farm to comply with urgency ordinance regulations for commercial cannabis cultivation before the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to ban in January this year.
“The Butte Fire took our home, all of our family heirlooms and burnt all our land,” Kathinka McKeown said in prepared remarks she intended to read to the board on Tuesday in San Andreas. “There are still families like ours that live in campers and continue to struggle for moderate restitution for PG&E’s proven negligence.”
McKeown was referring to Cal Fire’s determination that contact between a live tree and a Pacific Gas and Electric power line sparked the Butte Fire in September 2015.
The Butte Fire caused more than $1 billion in damage in Calaveras County. It was the costliest disaster in county history.
Some communities never fully recover from comparable disasters. Calaveras County still has a long way to go.
Roads damaged by the 110-square-mile Butte Fire comprise the largest unfinished county recovery project, Michelle Patterson, the county Office of Emergency Services director since February, said Tuesday.
The county’s proposed 2018-19 budget includes more than $10 million in estimated revenue to be spent next fiscal year on Butte Fire-damaged roads, private environmental health debris removal and hazard tree removal on private properties.
“When it comes to disasters, a community is never exactly the same as it was before the disaster,” Patterson said. “You adapt to a new normal. Generally speaking, people here are very strong and resilient, but for some private families who lost their homes and property, many are still at the start of their recovery. Other individuals are further along in their recovery.”
A year ago, the county’s Butte Fire Recovery had cut down 8,433 Butte Fire hazard trees. Sharon Torrence, a Calaveras County public information officer, said then that meant 99 percent of the burned trees left standing in the wake of the Butte Fire had been felled.
In a disaster recovery update on Tuesday, Patterson said the county is still waiting for Federal Emergency Management Agency approval to remove 1,544 Butte Fire-damaged trees that have not recovered and remain hazardous to health and safety.
As of Tuesday, the county had a total project cost of $12.9 million for Butte Fire tree removal. County staff were preparing contract amendments for removal of the remaining trees.
The county had $1.9 million budgeted for fixing Butte Fire-damaged roads, but the total did not include estimates for repairing Federal Highway Administration roads. Patterson said five federal road packages have been submitted to the California Department of Transportation and 18 more federal road packages are to be submitted in the next 10 days. No bids have been submitted for the projects.
In her presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Patterson said the Butte Fire was an unprecedented disaster that devastated more than 1,000 properties and generated a half-billion pounds of potentially hazardous debris and waste.
The McKeowns said they blame the three county supervisors — Gary Tofanelli, District 1, Dennis Mills, District 4, and Clyde Clapp, District 5 — who voted in January for the current ban on commercial cannabis activities for their dire straits.
“As difficult as our life has been to hold together since the fire, it was the three of you men that have dealt the final death blow to our family’s livelihood,” Kathinka McKeown said in her remarks. “You are taking food right out of our children’s mouths and destroying a burgeoning industry. … You failed to provide legal agricultural farmers with reasonable workable regulation.”
The Butte Fire broke out Sept. 9, 2015, when a gray pine came into contact with a PG&E overhead conductor at 17704 Butte Mountain Road in Amador County, according to a CPUC investigation.
The fast-moving blaze burned 70,868 acres, destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes, 368 outbuildings, and four commercial properties, damaged 44 structures and resulted in two civilian fatalities and one injury.
Both people who died were residents of Calaveras County who refused to evacuate as recommended by local authorities, according to the CPUC investigation. Coroner’s reports indicated the cause of death for both victims was consumption by fire: residential conflagration.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.