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Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Discusses the California Wildfires

The California wildfires ripped through parts of Southern California last week destroying anything in their path and leaving many homeless and some without businesses.  Please join me and my fellow blogger and co-host Bob Ambrogi, as we get first-hand accounts from three San Diego Lawyers affected by the fires: Attorney Mark C. Zebrowski and Katherine L. Parker both from Morrison & Foerster LLP and Attorney Dan Hull, from Hull McGuire PC.

On this week's Lawyer2Lawyer, we take a look at Morrison & Foerster's, "Helping Handbook," which provides legal information for victims of the fires, discuss how law firms are coping with this disaster, the legal issues surrounding the fires, and take a look ahead at what is next for firms affected by the fires and how they are dealing with the legal aftermath of the fires.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 16:38 Comments (0) |

From One Fire To The Next: What Happens After The 2007 California Fires Are Out?

As the evacuations are lifted this week and some 900,000 homeowners trickle back into their neighborhoods, what's next for the approximate 3,000 people who lost their homes and businesses to the wildfires?  Largely it's trying to put lives back together after the devastation

There are many resources available:  one law firm published the "Helping Handbook - For Individuals and Small Businesses Affected By The 2007 Southern California Wildfires."  Over 40 government agencies are available at the evacuation centers open around the area.  You can see the information on San Bernardino's efforts here and those in San Diego (much more extensive) here.  Insurance companies stand at the ready.

After those government avenues are exhausted, however, the next stop is likely a lawyer's office.  Why?

Most construction in the areas burned in San Diego is new, and subject to fire retardant guidelines.  Developers who built homes without the appropriate safeguards in place, causing the house to burn down, will likely face lawsuits.  As one example, homes are required to have 1/4" steel mesh blocking all attic vents to prevent burning embers from entering under the eaves and starting attic fires.  Developers who forgot to install the mesh or meet other fire code requirements may face lawsuits.  I was pleased to discover my home has them when I went to look because I'd never noticed before (thank you Lennar Homes).  A tile roof is another obvious prevention effort; wood shake shingles shouldn't be on homes in fire-prone areas.

Not only are developers targets for lawsuits, but also insurance companies.  After the 2003 wildfires, many of us took a good, hard look at our insurance policies and made sure we had replacement cost coverage and proper limits of coverage for contents and the dwelling itself.  If you don't carry current limits, then it's likely your insurance company will pay only a proportion of your claim.

Say, for example, it will take $500,000 to rebuild your home, but you carried only $250,000 of coverage.  In that instance, your insurance company will pay only half of your claim.  Or, heaven forbid, you carried "actual cash value" on your home instead of replacement cost coverage, which is a somewhat fancy way of saying the insurance company will pay only the depreciated value of your home.  Using the example above and adding insult to injury, your insurance carrier would likely pay you around $100,000, which would be the "depreciated" value of your home.

It's not surprising when confronted with these scenarios that people next think of contacting a lawyer.

Then there are the arsonists and California's victim restitution plan.  We've experienced $1 billion in losses, so there's no hope for recovery there.  When people sue, they look for deep pockets. 

And for the next one?  Get ready with this fantastic set of resources and links from Consumer's Union and the State of Oregon.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 10:01 Comments (0) |

Photos By Local Website Designer / Photographer Say More Than Words

Sometimes pictures say it best.  Below are six copyrighted photographs taken by Bryan Ventura, who designed and maintains our WLF website.  The photos are published here with his permission - please respect his copyright.  As you can see in the second-to-last photo, Bryan's home is right at the edge of the Santiago fire, just to provide you with some perspective.  He and his home survived, thanks to the firefighters and the aerial teams (see the choreography in the last photo).  Bryan's other fire photos can be seen here

Update:  The full width of the photos initially destroyed the MIPTC page design, but the photos are so fantastic and dramatic that I didn't want to downsize them at first.  MIPTC got several complaints, however, so the page design has been restored and you can now click on the individual photographs to open them in a new window and see them full-sized, which I highly recommend.

Update:  yesterday's news was good for our cabin in Running Springs' fight with the Slide fire (it survived), but last night a house just four or five houses from ours burned down.  The whole experience is nerve-wracking, as Bryan's photos from Trabuco Canyon in Orange County, California clearly show. 

Bryan's photos were taken of Los Alisos Boulevard in Rancho Santa Margarita, near Oso Reservoir, shown in the last photo.  The reservoir backs up to a nursery, which you can see in the foreground, with Hidden Ridge just beyond.  The ridge behind the last row of houses in the photos leads to El Toro Road on the left, and more toward the right is Live Oak Canyon and the Cooks Corner area.

 Bryan Ventura

Bryan Ventura

Bryan Ventura

Bryan Ventura


Bryan Ventura

Bryan Ventura

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, October 27, 2007 at 14:57 Comments (0) |

Slide Fire Update: Media Helicopters Interfere With Aerial Tanker Water Drops

Reports this morning on Emergency Center include this transcription of scanner traffic at 8:03 a.m. Wednesday, October 24, 2007, from their minute-by-minute transcription of emergency scanner radio:  "Air-to-ground: 'I'm at 7500 (ft) and in quite a bit of smoke (over the Grass fire). Attempting to do recon of the area and being hampered by heavy smoke; haven't been over the Slide fire yet because of media traffic and heavy smoke in the area.'"

What?  Media air traffic?

Come on, folks.  Get those news helicopters out of the way.  There are lots of people with homes up there, and you're interfering with the firefighters trying to protect those homes.  Let the air tankers drop water and fight the fires.  It's hard to believe we need to see more aerial television shots of fire given the extensive news coverage already in place, and as the pilot above mentions, it's hard enough with just the smoke in the way.  We don't need you.

It's been a frustrating evening watching the private, local Internet resources upload information about homes lost to the fires in the Running Springs area.  They don't have much information and are trying to gather it from a number of sources.  Thankfully, though, they put it up.  The media and government aren't providing the information for fear they'll post something wrong and get sued for it.  The local resources have it figured out though; they simply post a disclaimer identifying the information as unverified. 

Everyone understands, and it's fine.  Just give us the information and let us sort through it.  But in the meantime, let those firefighters, aerial tankers and helicopters do their job.

Let's ground the media helicopters and keep them out of the way.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 09:41 Comments (1) |

MIPTC's Personal News Update On The Southern California Fires

The Santiago Canyon fire has passed by our home leaving it intact.  Others are not so fortunate, however, and have lost homes as the fire makes its relentless march South, apparently wanting to meet up with the fires in San Diego County, which have forced the evacuation of apparently half a million people. 

The information on the fire says its 30% contained and gone from near my home.  The smoke, however, is not.  It still fills my home and the ash from the burned fuel still drifts over everything.  The hills behind our home are no longer brown.  They're simply white.  Ash white.  Most troubling, though, is a report from the local fire department that the fire was caused by an arsonist. 

Arson.  Ugh.

Apart from that frustration, I've listened to complaints about the lack of information about the fires.  The people complaining must not know how to search the Internet.  Here are a number of very reliable government sites:

     The Federal government's Incident Information System, abbreviated InciWeb.

     California's Department of Forestry and Fire Information.

     Orange County Fire Authority.

     KPBS's Google map of San Diego fires.

     Google map of Southern California fires.

     Ranger Al's site, covering Inland Empire fires.

     The Los Angeles County Fire Department's weblog, LAFD News & Information.

I'm sure there are a lot of other good resources out there, so if anyone has more, send me an email and I'll add them to this list.  These are just the ones I turn to for specific information about these geographic areas. 

As regular readers know, we also have a small cabin in Running Springs, California that survived the Old Fire in 2003.  Running Springs is under attack from the Slide Fire and this time several of our ski school friends, including Bev and Kerry Brown, have stayed behind, as well as some other friends in town, including Mike and Brandon Hoag.  We've kept in touch with them by email and telephone throughout the day.

Our cabin on Live Oak Drive is apparently still standing, but homes above and below us have been destroyed, according to our friends and other news reports.  We're proud of our firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect us, but perhaps no prouder than one of our own, Sam Friedman, the lead firefighter in the picture below, taken in September as Sam fought the Julian Fire in San Diego.  He's our own Joe and MariBeth McFaul's son. 

Sam leads the way.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 00:11 Comments (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Checks Out Both Sides Of The Corporate Aisle

If a firm or company finds itself being investigated by the government, then what should it do?  How does a company prepare if one day the feds come knocking?  Please join me and my fellow blogger and co-host Bob Ambrogi as we turn to Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., who has been on both sides of federal investigations as a Washington-based partner with Troutman Sanders LLP and was a former federal prosecutor.

Attorney Howard and our hosts offer their advice to those who find themselves knee-deep in trouble and prepare by discussing compliance programs, working with investigators and the considering importance of the right to counsel.  We look at the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights.  Don't miss out!


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 18:10 Comments (0) |

Hair On Fire And Smoke On The Waterless Desert

More On The Santiago Canyon Fire Incident, With Map

Yesterday's post described the Irvine, California fire right where I live and posted some photographs of what I saw from my home.  We woke up this morning to still very windy, dry weather here in our section of the desert made into paradise.  But the house is intact thanks to the 500 or so firefighters who beat back the Santiago Canyon blaze just across the street. 

To give you a perspective, last night at 6:00 p.m., it had burned 20 acres.  This morning at 8:00 a.m., it had burned 8,800 acres.  Think about that for a minute, and do the math.  That's burning at the rate of more than 10 acres per minute.

10 acres per minute.  Think about evacuating with fire and wind chasing you at that speed, and then think about trying to evacuate a 1,600 home complex (where I live) out of only three exits. 

Here's an approximate map of the fire, prepared by the Orange County Fire Authority at this website, which is a wonderful resource to cut through the news coverage and wild speculation of what's going on.  To orient you, I live just slightly Northwest of the 'P' in Portola Parkway, at the very edge of the yellow (one street back).

Santiago 10

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, October 22, 2007 at 09:54 Comments (0) |

LA Woman With Her Hair On Fire (With Apologies To The Doors)

Irvine, California Santiago Canyon Incident - I'm Blogging This & Photos Below

The pungent smell of smoke fills our house, right across the street from where the Orange County Fire Authority minutes ago listed voluntary evacuations at the apartment complex near our home.  We're staying put.  As the fire department advises, 'Shelter In Place.'

The wind is gusting at over 70 miles per hour, and the sky is raining ash.  My car is covered with it, despite the wind.  When we came home earlier tonight, Halloween decorations were all over the street - we found a Styrofoam tombstone at the end of the cul-de-sac (we're at the beginning of it), along with several Styrofoam pumpkins, skeletons and the like. 

Pretty scary stuff.

The television shows pictures of the fire in only two colors:  orange and black, since the sun has set.  The super scoopers, fire helicopters and other aerial services used to fight fires can't fly, so they're setting lines to keep the fires away from homes.  Frankly, it's unbelievable that the news helicopters can fly in this smoke and not run into each other. 

We're not on fire yet, although my partner called to offer his home if we evacuated, as did other family members, even though one is experiencing a power outage and we can't get to another because the roads are blocked.  If we evacuate, then our best bet is to head toward the beach to another family member's home.  If worse comes to worse, we can always stop at the beach.  The ocean isn't going to burn. 

I took some photos earlier this evening, so you can get a perspective.  They're taken from a second story balcony at the back of my home, looking Southeast.  Keeps you humble.

There are six photos in all, taken starting at about 6:20 p.m, about 25 minutes after the fire started, looking from the Southeast to the Southwest, and then back to the fire again after sunset.  Sorry about the fuzzy photo of the fire line, but it was a little windy.

Santiago Incident SE

Santiago Incident 2

Santiago Incident 3

Santiago SW

Santiago SE again, after dark.

Santiago SE, zoomed back a bit

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 22:35 Comments (2) |

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