California burns … or goes dark in fear of burning

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Friday afternoon, Oct. 11, 2019

California is on fire again. Homes are going up in flames in the south. Freeways there are closed. In Northern California, PG&E turned off power to 600,000 people. Some of the power has been restored, some not.


PG&E declared bankruptcy last year pending wildfire legal costs after the disastrous Camp Fire wiped out the city of Paradise. Power lines ignited that blaze. Eighty-five people died; 19,000 buildings burned. The city vanished.

So this year PG&E just turned off power to everybody when strong Santa Ana winds were in the forecast. Who needs another lawsuit, although one may be coming from businesses that collectively lost millions, perhaps billions of dollars? Homeowners watched the food in their freezers go bad. Gas stations couldn’t pump gas. Schools were closed. In Nevada City, SPD Market employees could be seen storing food in freezer trucks and helping the store in any way they could.

At the lone hardware store still open in Grass Valley, generators were sold out, and business was brisk on lanterns and flashlights.

Our editors have not had time to report on the situation but we’re working on it. We’ll ask RV dealers in the area if they sold “emergency RVs.”

It seems to us that every time a natural disaster like this happens, the lucky people are those with RVs. Cold and frozen food can be transferred to their fridges. Generators can provide power for lights and A/C when needed, and propane stoves take care of cooking.

TURNING OFF PUBLIC POWER to prevent fires is not sustainable. Over-building in fire-prone areas, global warming and normal fall dry conditions are to blame, and that won’t change. PG&E can’t keep doing this.

Do you live in an area where the power was turned off? Please leave a comment and tell us how you coped. Will you remain in the area or leave?

For those of you involved, we wish you the very best getting through this difficult time.

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Marty and Sue Main

In southern Nevada County (12 miles south of Grass Valley), in northern California, we were without power midnight Tuesday the 8th through Friday midday the 11th (about 60 hours) during the predicted high wind event necessitating a Red Fag Warning. Without our own generator (no RV yet), we took frozen food to neighbors who had a generator and showered there once. Fortunately for us, our well water storage tank is higher than our home so water flows by gravity into toilets to refill them for flushing. We have no piped water in the area, only water wells.

Some seemed to have landline phone service but other didn’t some of the time, but we opted a long time ago to be strictly cellular. And while our Verizon cellular service worked fine, we heard of many locals with other carriers that experienced poor to non-existent service. And without a generator, no lights or entertainment systems, and it was a challenge to keep smartphones and tablets charged and possible Code RED evacuation alerts (had a wildfire actually broke out). We had no internet connection during the outage, except via cellular data. A big inconvenience. It really felt like rural camping.

As you might guess, generator sales has gone through the roof (including some apparent price gouging by a few sellers) everywhere these Public Safety Power Shutoffs occurred up and down the northern California foothills. And many folks discovered their solar systems won’t work without commercial power operating (inverters shut down so as not to back-feed the power grid and endanger line-workers).

People affected are furious and the governor insists the power company (Pacific Gas and Electric) should pay each household $100 and each business $250 for the debacle.

There was little wind in actuality, much less than predicted in the Red Flag Warning for those days, at least in our immediate area.

HOWEVER, this time of year IS traditionally the most dangerous portion of our fire season with extremely dry vegetation and generally high northerly winds possible. In fact, many of the most destructive California fires occur in October and November before the winter rains (such as they are) begin. We’re in a climate that typically is without rain from April to late November as well as fairly sparse rain over the winter and spring months. And in southern California the situation is much worse!

In so far as staying, we already have our house on the market to sell and begin a full-time RV lifestyle, and needless to say we are more motivated to go. But our heart’s hurt for our friends, family and neighbors who will stay and endure this situation.

Mike Sherman

PG&E is responsible for failing to maintain their system. Population growth has contributed, but PG&E failed to keep up. Now the government allows them to shirk their responsibility and simply turn off the juice. That creates a financial hit that costs nearly as much as a fire, depending on the circumstances. California ran off the rails some time ago and it is only going to get worse.

Mike Sokol

I had a discussion with one of the Cummins reps at the RV show about using a built-in RV generator as emergency power for your house. I’ve been trying for 2 years to get any kind of statement or technical support from Cummins on this topic, and all I hear is crickets. But now this rep tells me that they don’t consider their RV generators to be whole-house generators and that’s why nobody at Cummins will answer my inquiry. However, I think that simply by adding a 50-amp NEMA 14-50 receptacle (outlet) with a 50-amp fused disconnect on the side of your RV, then installing a proper inlet and generator interlock transfer switch on your house service panel, this would become a great backup generator for these types of outage situations that could last for days or weeks. Especially if you have a diesel generator that can get fuel from the RV tank. Then you could drive your RV out of the area to fill-up at a truck stop every several days. What do you think? Is this a good topic for an advanced RVelectricity article?

Jeremy Pratt

I have a Yamaha generator that I use with my RV and a transfer switch on my house to power it. I can run most of the house except the AC condenser.
SCE cut power to the area just north of me, we were saved the outage because of a school on my power grid. I talked with a Manager at the Lowe’s in the shopping center that was shutdown and even though they have a backup generator to run basic lights and their network they had to close and lost quite a bit of money that day. This shopping center consists of a lot of small business, some banks, a Costco, a Ralph’s and a Home Depot. I wonder how much revenue and lost wages were realized from 1.5 days of being shutdown for no real reason. My whole area is fed underground and the power lines that do exist have good clean right of ways along streets. The shutdown made no sense at all and besides the shopping center affected a few thousand homes as well. Kids were sent home from schools preparing for the shutdown and went home to a dead home.
In the meantime people in San Francisco were quoted as saying “well, if it saves just one life then it’s worth it” Well, sorry big city person, your power will never be affected so your opinion on the matter doesn’t mean squat.
I can’t wait to get out of this state and start fulltiming.

David Barnett

I was out of power for 57 hours. We were given advanced warning of a Red Flag fire alert, and the high probability of PG&E shutting down the power. I took the opportunity to fill up four 5 gal portable gas cans, and since I’m on well water, I filled my 5th wheel’s 110 gal fresh water tank. I have an Onan 5500 generator built into my 5th wheel toyhauler, and I ran it ahead of time to make sure it was ready to go. I turned on the gas absorption fridge in the toyhauler and put it on gas/electric mode. I also have two Honda 2200 inverter generators and a couple miles of extension cords. (kidding) additionally I made sure my rechargeable flashlights were all charged up and ready to go. Sure enough, at midnight on Oct. 8th my power went out. First off, I hooked up my home refrigerator to one of the Honda generators, plugged in a lamp and went back to bed. The next morning I fired up the other Honda generator and hooked up the TV, Dish box and my wifi. Since I’m on well water, and the well pump is 220 volts, I couldn’t pump water, so I used the RV’s water supply and bottled water I keep on hand. I was able to take nice hot showers in the RV, watch TV and use the internet with no problems. In total, I used nearly 10 gallons of gas for the entire episode. My neighbor has one of those whole home built in back up generator systems which runs on propane. He reported he used just over 50 gallons of propane. I paid $3.87 a gallon for my gasoline, and he paid just over $3.50 a gallon for his propane. I think I got the better deal. Having the 5th wheel as a “second home” option really made all the difference for me.

Wolfe

It’s Saturday night and no one has mentioned the “accidental deaths” caused by these intentional blackouts. Folks dependent on medical equipment like oxygen machines and such are either instantly out of luck or depleting their batteries and tanks and then dying. In normal blackouts, these folks are on a priority list to make sure they get power back asap, but not so with intentional blackouts.

Kevin

. Diane made the salient point but it was buried. The main transmission lines which carry over 345,000 volts need a larger right-of-way. Increasing the width of the easement and keeping it clear of trees, deadfalls and brush will reduce the problem. Decreasing the span between towers would also help. Timely maintenance of the lines, better auto-shutoff devices will also help.

Steven W. Browning, Sr.

Just thinking that we live on the Gulf coast and lose power often during hurricanes. We have RV to evacuate in and a standby generator if we stay. Prepare.

Diane Mc

Live in San Jose. Our area (about center of city) did not lose power. My brother who lives in SJ, about 20 miles SE lost his power for over 24hrs. My Mom, 91, also SJ about 15 miles E from us, was blocks away from where power was cut (lucky her). We got wind gusts for 10 minutes in mid morning. That was it. My brother nothing. It was a scam by PGE saying “we’ll show you for suing us for not doing maintenance all these years”. This isn’t anything to do with global warming. Even our communist Governor said so. So it has to be true, right? We have Santa Ana and Diablo winds every year, some bad, some not so bad. In 89, the Oakland & Berkeley hills burned for this very reason. Lots of brush, untrimmed trees, etc coupled with high winds knocking down PGE lines. We are not in a drought. But it is dry. Fall comes after summer, when we rarely get rain. Our normal weather pattern. Our reservoirs are full. This is the fault of the environmentalists who fight even private citizens from being able to clear areas surrounding their property. And PGE for buying into it. Also PGE for not doing routine clearing around lines. Our street has numerous trees, some over 100 ft tall and all close to get her with the lines running through them. What do they think is going to happen when we get strong winds. They say they don’t have money. Yet just paid themselves bonuses. Poor planning. Off soap box.

Billy Bob Thorton

Just reaping the benifits of Looney tunes rule! Let’s see what the next two years brings to the table. What’s that adage, ” sink or swim” I think more appropriate for the western US would be float or choke on the smoke!

Tommy Molnar

While we seldom have serious power outages in our town, we’ve gotten some at inopportune times – like making Thanksgiving dinner one year. We simply went out to our trailer (which is conveniently parked next to our house) and fired up the oven (and the furnace!). Yup, love our RV!

Mary

I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the power was off for 5 days even though there was no wind. I did feel lucky having an RV to plug into. The only real problem was water from the well. We have a pond so I was able to pump water to the bathtub for flushing the toilet. The pump used is a Ryobi battery powered transfer pump and it worked great. PG&E needs to come up with a better plan for inspecting the thousands of miles of lines before restoring power. Why do they need to inspect huge areas where there was no wind?

BirdsGoToo

“Over-building in fire-prone areas, global warming and normal fall dry conditions are to blame, and that won’t change.”

You don’t really still buy in to the “global warming” scam do you?

tom

RV’s are a very useful escape pod. Disasters happen, both man made and Mother Nature. Be sure to keep it ready, if you live in an area subject to problems. Check your emergency supplies, American Red Cross has good starting lists.