How can you live normally in California anymore?

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By Chuck Woodbury
EDITOR
How do you live in a place where the electricity to your home or business can be turned off with virtually no warning to you because of high fire danger? That’s what’s happening in California. I strongly suspect the same thing will occur soon in other wildfire-prone states. The fire season nowadays lasts longer than ever before.

Decades ago, when I fought fires near Lake Tahoe for the U.S. Forest Service, the wildfire season typically ended in October, with the first big rain. The Camp Fire in Paradise occurred in November, 2018. More than 300,000 people were forced to evacuate. Nearly 19,000 homes and businesses burned to the ground and 85 people died. The Camp Fire is the subject of a 2019 Netflix documentary titled “Fire in Paradise”.


How does a person today live knowing the same thing could happen to them — or that their utility company could turn off their power whenever the fire danger was high? How about business people, where a power outage for even a few days could mean the difference between profit or going bust? What does a restaurant do with spoiled food? How does a gas station provide gas without electricity to its pumps? How long can a supermarket go without its frozen food spoiling?

Yes, there are backup generators, but few have one.

I spent more than 10 years living in a community near Paradise. Nevada City is high on the danger list for a similar wildfire disaster. I can tell you that if I still lived there I would be seriously considering moving away. (How about you? Please take the survey below.)

My staff and I were talking last week about what would happen if our power were cut off suddenly. We’d find ways to work, but it would be challenging. I imagine if the outage continued those of us in the local area would gather at my motorhome, using my generator for power and to get online with my MiFi card (if the Verizon towers had power).

It would be entirely possible that we could not produce this newsletter, at least with all of its regular features.

Camp Fire from the Lansat 8 satellite.

One thing I suspect is that a lot of people who do not plan to leave California are seriously thinking of buying an RV as an escape vehicle and backup home should their stick-and-brick model go up in flames. Some, I would guess, are considering an RV as a full-time residence – move it when danger approaches. The people of Paradise and other fire disaster areas who lost their homes but were able to escape with their RVs were lucky, and I know they will tell you that.

If you are one of those people, please leave a comment below with your story. Or email me at chuck (at) RVtravel.com to discuss this. We need to explore this subject in more depth. Nobody expects PG&E and Southern California Edison to stop turning off power. PG&E went bankrupt with $30 billion in liabilities after the Camp Fire and it can’t afford another financial disaster.

I can’t see the end of this. PG&E turned off power to 51,036 homes in 11 counties as recently as Thursday. It will keep happening.

Please take a moment to answer this survey:

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billh42

We are on the Gulf coast so fire is not a problem but hurricanes are. We are fulltimers with a lease site in an RV park that we use as a “home base” when not travelling. If we are here during hurricane season our 5th wheel and truck is always in travelling trim and we can be hooked up and gone in an hour or so. The only trick is getting out ahead of the mandatory evacuations so we don’t get bogged down in the traffic. That has happened twice in the last six years and worked out OK each time. I really feel for the people in CA though. To me fire is much much scarier than a hurricane where we at least have enough warning to get out of the way.

Suellen

I grew up and worked my early adult life in Southern California. My family evacuated a few times due to high winds or earthquakes. The 30 billion dollars PG&E suffered would have gone a long way to bury utility lines. Buried lines are safe from winds, fires and make the landscape so much more beautiful.

Dan

Having lost everything to the camp fire we are very happy that we had our “escape pod” in which to run for our lives! We have left the state and never looked back! It is impossible to live a normal life in California any longer.

Jane Morgan

You are very correct, Chuck. We escaped the Camp Fire in Paradise in our truck/camper that was still ready in the bottom yard because we had just arrived home from a recent trip. Thank goodness it was there as we barely made it out with only 10 minutes of warning from our neighbors who saw the fire in the canyon below their house. We left with flames coming up the road behind us. Our house was completely destroyed along with everything else around it, including our 5th wheel. We now are New Mexico residents and would never return to California to live, even though both our children and their families still reside there. We are continually amazed at the unbelievable torments that Californians have to endure. Thank you for your support of RVers everywhere.

RetiredGunsUSMC

Having Lived in Orange, and San Diego Counties, with the consistent, Natural Disasters, there was an Immediate and Dire need, to have a Plan. In the 32 years I lived there, I continually had an RV, as part of that plan! It was a No Brainer, to me, as in those 3 decades, I personally experienced everything Mother Nature could throw at you! From Earth Moving Earthquakes, to Twisters, to Floods, and Topping it all off, were the Mandatory Evacs, for Fire Storms, and 100+ MPH winds! It has always been inhospitipal place, with No Warning whatsoever! I was forced to live there, as a Marine, and then decided to stay. But never would have, without that crucial Back-Up Plan! When the Political Climate became unbearable, even the RV, couldn’t help, so I put it in my Rear-View Mirror, almost a dozen years ago! I still would not be without an RV, and it is now just a Pure Joy, to Cruise the Highways with what I refer to as an Old friend! I have owned 7 of them, of all types, since 1978, and will till they plant me, count on that!

Rory R

Oh I forgot to add I am a So cal resident, who lived in the Central Ca region for five yrs and have lived in So Cal for 52 years for a total 57 yrs in Ca. I’m not going anywhere else to live, I chalk up higher taxes to entertainment. You see things here that you don’t see anywhere else. I spend about a total of 6 mos a yr on the road in my RV. I grew up in La., under hurricane watches. So my question is where are you going to go? Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Sink holes, sand storms, ice storms, snow storms and earthquakes. Anywhere you go you have something to contend with, so decide which one you can handle and handle it…

Rory R

First and foremost when choosing a home, make sure the location is not in a wildfire prone area, if it is keep looking. Many people value “views” over avoiding the consequences that come with those views. This is not a critisism of these folks, just a reminder that their actions and choices have consequences. If you accept the consequences and make the purchase, don’t act surprised when disasters happen. California is a reclaimed desert. especially Southern Ca. Did you ever notice how the greenery of spring, turns brown in summer on the hillsides. That is because of low humidity and the rainey season has ended, so there is no source of natural moisture to keep everything green. As far as the power companies, they will do whatever they feel they have to to avoid lawsuits, and when their profits drop because of their actions they will raise their rates. In years to come California homeowners may just switch to solar and home generators for power, and there will be a huge court battle with the power companies complaining that they have been granted exclusive rights to provide power. Result it will take a while but they will eventually lose. Home owners who purchase in fire prone areas must clear dried brush from around their properties and install equiptment that will spray retardent on their rooftops and draw water from their swimming pools to knock down hotspots until the fire dept arrives….. That is the reality of living in a wildfire prone area…

Joel Hagler

Been in CA for 60 years…..I love being in LA and OC. The trick to enjoying it is to live close to work….I have. Commuting kills the good life. Traffic in the city makes people move to the hills and then they have fire worries. We put up with quakes, better then living with fire on your mind. The southern cal weather makes all the other worries go away.
And my wife’s name is Betty.

Don

First, I really feel for all the people affected by the wildfires. But, I think Chuck has taken this to heart because of his familiarity with the area and the situation. My viewpoint is from the Gulf coast, We contend with hurricanes yearly. Not all hurricanes come to our town, but we are watching every storm, every season. I live in the New Orleans area and Katrina is coming back to haunt us constantly. Hurricane Camille hit Gulfport, Ms while I was there in the Navy with 200 MPH winds and over 20 feet of water. Have I considered leaving my lifelong home? Not really, where would I go? Up north, we are having more and more severe winter weather. Texas and Oklahoma are getting beat up by tornadoes worse than ever. We all have our form of disaster to deal with, we all have to decide if where we are is the best place to be. Or is the price we have to pay (financial, emotional, etc.) to leave, worth it.

Hoss Smith

When one lives in a third world country such as California has become one must expect less than good outcomes from everything that happens.

Paul S Goldberg

I live in a motorhome in an RV park in SoCal, wild fire has burned to our property line in the past. My coach is mobile, there are two ways out of the park on to different highways. I can be underway in 30 minutes (15 if I am willing to risk some damage). We had a close call when a coach in the park caught fire in the middle of the night – source as yet unknown. Neighbors watered down the nearby undergrowth and two rigs seeing the flames bugged out. We were not there at the time nor was our rig. It didn’t spread, but two died in the coach. Our entire community is working on making preparations for a variety of disaster scenarios including fire and earthquake. I keep my freshwater full and the grey is always drained. Fuel tank is at 75 gallons. We are as ready as we can be.

Charlie Brown

My parents lived in Paradise, now deceased, and their house burned.

I can say, my Dads biggest fear was the possibility of a fire. I’m sure he would have moved long ago, as I did when the decline of CA began.

Carson Axtell

As someone who intends to do a lot of backwoods boondocking, I am especially concerned about getting trapped by a wildfire. Just last night I bookmarked a few vendors who sell those $400+ “flameproof” emergency shelters that wildland firefighters carry in the hopes that it will save them if they ever get trapped. Even stumbled across a few pictures of such shelters that had been charred and melted by the intense heat of a forest fire…seems most are good to about 500*F, but forest fires can approach 1,500*F. I guess Plan B will be to always try to camp in an area with at least two exit roads, or near a lake…?

Bill Dornbush

I live in Santa Rosa, CA. During the Tubbs fire, we were evacuated, and again during the Kincade fire. In both cases, we used our trailer during the evacuation. We have had our power shut off twice, which is a lot less than some of our city neighbors. During the Tubbs fire, we also lost gas, so the trailer provided us with a place with heat and a shower. We store it in our side yard, and will not live somewhere that does not allow us to keep it handy. We consider it our earthquake and wildfire evacuation shelter. We have solar for daytime power (Secure Power option) and a generator for the night, and for the trailer when we travel. We have not lost our home, although the Tubbs fire came close enough. We now hitch our trailer when fires threaten so we can get away quickly. We have done a lot to be ready to evacuate quickly and are working on our home to harden it more for fires.
We plan to stay but if we should lose our house, we will probably leave at that time. But where to go? As other posters said, there is risk just about everywhere.

Ann

Here we go again, talking about California like what’s happening there isn’t happening practically everywhere else. Hurricanes along the eastern seaboard and the gulf states. Tornadoes in tornado alley. Flooding everywhere. The combination of climate change and too many people trying to live in places they shouldn’t is causing problems everywhere. California isn’t special.

Honestly, my power was off more when I lived in the Pacific Northwest. Every time there was even a moderate storm, the trees would take out the power lines, and it would take several days for everyone’s power to be restored. Most people had a backup plan of some sort, usually a generator.

But yeah, as many other commenters mentioned. We’re doing this to ourselves.

Shirley Hopkins

During our 30 years in Reno our property endured 2 floods and 3 wildfires. The last fire actually burned a couple of cars on our property and 3 houses on our street before a plane dropped fire retardant on us. Although I love the area, and still own the house, we decided to get an RV and travel full-time when I took early retirement. Now we can visit the places we love, like Florida, without owning property there that could be destroyed by hurricanes, floods, or fires. If the area we are in is being threatened, we can just drive away. I didn’t know how much we needed an RV until we got one.

George B

Having lived in one of CA’s National Forests for over 40 years, I can say with certainty the most profound problem is not PG&E or Global Warming. It is decades USFS mismanagement and liberal activists who totally control the CA Legislature. Democrats have become radicalized to the point that they have turned our government in to a oligarchy. We have the highest cost of living anywhere in America and little to show for it.

My family has had to evacuate on several occasions over the years because of large forest fires. Fortunately our home remains intact. 40 years ago I could drive in to the forest and take any standing or down dead tree for firewood. Now you have to pay for a permit to drive in to the forest, find a standing dead tree (can’t take down dead because of some protected insect), drive back to the USFS and give them the tree coordinates, wait for them to assess the trees value, pay for that value, then make another trip to cut and remove it. Unless it is ‘fire season’, during which they ban vehicles from ‘OUR’ forest. Years ago we lost a large percentage of our trees due to bark beetles, simply because the forest was overgrown with trees due to USFS policies. The beetles/nature did what environmentalists refused to do.

Several years ago a large fire here was coming towards our town fast, fueled by decades of old growth, down dead trees and no fire breaks. When it looked like all was lost, the US Fire agency showed up and their commander told us he didn’t care what the tree huggers say, he was taking a fleet of dozers and making fire breaks around our valley. The dozers got about 2/3 around the valley when the new fire breaks effectively stopped the fires advancement. Almost immediately the environmentalists stopped the dozers from completing the last 1/3.

Since then the forest has regenerated and those breaks are now gone. We live in constant fear of fire threats due to arsonists, lightning and the so-called ‘controlled burns’. The forest is a tinder box, which places us in a Red Fire zone. Home insurers will not write new policies and existing policies are very expensive. When I sell my home, the new owner will have to go to a government run company to buy fire insurance, then a separate private policy for liability.

Now in my 70’s, born and raised here, I am leaving CA and returning to America.

mdstudey

Really building the wall and immigrants, illegal homeless criminals are to blame? Seriously I was waiting for the punch line thinking this post must be a joke. I am California born and raised whom choose to leave in the 80’s because of the costs of living there then, but I will always love California.

I just wish I could really let you know what I think. The rules won’t allow it. As you are eating that Thanksgiving dinner maybe you should be thankful to those illegal immigrants for helping to get that food to your dinner table.

marty chambers

I live in Florida and have for 65 years. I never saw the wisdom of re-building in an area that has proven to time and time again be in danger of being destroyed.

I see condos now where people used to go to the beach. Most of which are build on barrier islands, which come and go depending on the weather.

To rebuild them after an event is stupid, but tax dollars will pay for it all.

The sea levels are rising, it is a proven fact.

The wild fires are also enhanced by climate change, as are the snow storms and floods.

Think about it when your running from the flames or a CAT 5 hurricane.

Eric

We live in Healdsburg, and have had to experience the 2017 fires, losing 6,000 homes, the Paradise fire, losing even more! Now, the Camp fire… and numerous others the national media never picked up on! We will stay! We have a beautiful farm and home, where we have been fortunate to avoid all fires, so far… although the “wall” of fire (3 miles away) was visible from the top of our property. The amazing “healing” of the land after the 2017 fires gives us hope.