Wildfires, Power Outage, & Doomsday Prepping

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.

 

Cover image by David Mark from Pixabay

Be Prepared

PSA: Check your fire extinguisher.

Over the last few weeks the Bay Area has had several warm and windy days. Guy hates wind, and each time he remarks: “It smells like fire weather.”

Good point, since last October the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive fire in California history, burned Santa Rosa to the ground.

This past weekend Q14 attended his first semi-formal dance with a group of friends. Not realizing the date conflict, Guy planned a fly fishing trip for the same weekend and C19 went along. Which left me on solo parent duty. And Q decided to host the after-party.

Our hot tub is on the fritz so he announced they would enjoy a fire in our backyard fire pit. Since my mind seems determined to hang on to its image of my youngest as also “too young,” I thought that sounded ludicrous. Until C and Guy both reminded me that Q is also an experienced, fire certified Boy Scout.

Together Q and I cleaned the house, shopped, and prepped snacks. He set up the fire pit and put out the beach chairs. He showered and put on his nice clothes and didn’t complain (much) about letting Mom take pictures.

The evening became a progressive party. The group convened at one home for pictures, then traveled to another home for dinner, where the adults stayed while the kids went to the dance. I picked kids up after two hours, at which point everyone moved to our house, kids outside and adults inside.

With Guy’s confidence ringing in my ears and guests in my kitchen, I didn’t watch Q start the fire. I also didn’t notice when he came inside for sweatshirts and bug spray. I did hop to when he made a mad dash for the fire extinguisher–which failed–and then shouted for water. I ran out with him and cranked the faucet while he aimed the hose.

Crisis averted, we discovered that someone had knocked the bug spray under the fire pit, where it got too hot and caught fire. A dramatic end to their evening around the fire pit became an excuse for getting up close and personal with our pet menagerie, not a bad trade off.

We learned we hadn’t been as prepared as we thought (adding a new extinguisher to the list of errands), and yet Q handled the situation well. One more hands-on learning experience, one more story to share.