In October 2017, 250 wildfires ravaged Northern California, including the Tubbs Fire, which burned in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties. At the time, it was the most destructive fire in California. Santa Rosa, in particular, looked like a bomb had gone off as whole neighborhoods burned down to the foundation. Altogether, the fires caused $14.5 billion in damages and an estimated $85 billion in cost to the economy.
In November 2018, the Camp Fire in NorCal’s Butte County surpassed the previous year’s fires to become the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. The fire burned for seventeen days and devastated the densely populated foothill town of Paradise, claiming at least 85 lives and $16.5 billion.
Beginning just after midnight today, October 9, 2019, PG&E began shutting off power to at least 30 NorCal counties due to fire risk. Close to 1 million people will lose power for an estimated one to five days. In emails to customers, PG&E says: “Power will remain off until weather conditions improve and it is safe to restore service. In most cases, we would expect to be able to restore power within 24 to 48 hours after weather has passed.” Previously, they also said that employees would inspect every inch of power lines to ensure public safety.
From local reactions, you’d think the world is ending. People are doomsday prepping like I’ve never seen living in California. Well, okay, maybe like they did for Y2K. The grocery stores are out of ice and bottled water. The hardware stores have run out of flashlights and batteries. I’ve never seen the gas stations so crowded in our small town, and the pumps are mostly empty anyway (I tried, but after pulling up to three pumps, I gave up. I have enough gas to get me where I won’t be going since nothing will be open).
I get it, be prepared, but we all need a giant dose of calm as well.
For my part, I’ve frozen blocks of ice in tupperware that I will transfer to an ice chest with food from the fridge. I brewed coffee to store in water bottles; I can drink it cool, but can’t survive without. I’ve chilled reusable water bottles because people stockpile water in unusual situations, even if clean flowing water does not seem in threat.
We have flashlights and candles in every room. We’ve charged our portable phone chargers and ordered a solar charger that should arrive by Amazon today. I did not raid the grocery store because we have enough PB&J and granola bars to last a week if not a month. Also, apples. And I should be able to use the gas stove to reheat the soup I made yesterday. We’ve got all our camping gear should it become necessary. Oh, and I made banana bread, but mostly because I needed to use the spotted bananas.
Though it does feel like PG&E will be holding the Bay Area hostage for the next several days, and that this may be an extreme reaction, caution is good. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the last two fire seasons. And though many have expressed that this is a sign of things to come, that we should at least expect higher rates in the near future, complaining doesn’t seem like a good use of our personal or collective energy, either. Rather, a few deep breaths and a sense of humor will serve us better.
With potential for school and office closures, I’m looking forward to the possibility of a few days of down-time with my kiddos. Without power for TV, video games, and computers, and with the need to limit power usage on their cell phones, we can instead enjoy each other’s company. Read books. Play board games. Get outside for a hike. Ride bikes. Eat simple meals by candlelight.
We have the opportunity to live lightly on the land, perhaps the best way to live all the time and not just in unusual circumstances.