On July 1, 2022, I became the trustee of the Fire Victim Trust. The Trust was established in 2020 out of the bankruptcy of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to offer an efficient and equitable claims review process to compensate fire victims for damages caused by the 2015 Butte, 2017 North Bay and 2018 Camp fires. The individuals impacted by these tragedies have suffered unimaginable loss, and I have made it my mission to help them rebuild their lives.
The Camp Fire claimed 85 lives, destroyed more than 18,000 structures and consumed over 153,000 acres of land, making it California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire. The towns of Paradise and Concow were nearly erased from the map, with each losing approximately 95% of its structures. Paradise in particular was reduced to ashes. Those fortunate enough to have survived the fires have had a challenging road to recovery. I have attended town halls and made several visits to Paradise to update survivors and answer their questions about the trust.
Establishing the infrastructure to administer, process and resolve claims has been essential for compensating victims. My top priority has been to get money to people as quickly and fairly as possible. In fact, over $6.35 billion has been paid out to residents and businesses in and around Paradise.
It was also very important to me that the Trust operate with transparency to inform claimants, their counsel, public officials and other stakeholders about this critical work. Over the last year and a half, we have engaged residents and leaders of affected communities as often as we could via the Trust’s website, working with the media and directly engaging with communities.
On Thursday, Nov. 2, I was invited to a ceremony commemorating the fifth anniversary of the 2018 Camp Fire. Fire survivors, elected officials, nonprofit representatives and local leaders gathered around the State Capitol in Sacramento to share their stories and reflect upon the progress that has been made to restore Paradise. Speakers included Camp Fire Collaborative Board Chair Megan Kurtz, Rebuild Paradise Foundation Executive Director Jen Goodlin, Paradise Unified School District Superintendent Tom Taylor, Butte County District 5 Supervisor Doug Teeter, Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin and California Assemblymember James Gallagher.
During the event, I had the honor of receiving a certificate of gratitude from the Camp Fire Collaborative, a nonprofit organization based in Paradise that works to address the unmet needs of Camp Fire survivors throughout the Butte County region. It has truly been an honor to partner with leaders across the state to restore these communities.
I am incredibly humbled to receive this recognition and will continue to work tirelessly for fire victims until our job is done.
Cathy Yanni is a mediator and special master/referee at JAMS and serves as trustee of the Fire Victim Trust.
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