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Multiple agencies respond to Basin disaster

M. Kate West
Chester Editor
2/3/2010


    Without the assistance of multiple agencies, life, as it is known in the Lake Almanor Basin, might have come to a screeching halt during the snowstorms the week of Jan. 17ñ25.
    In addition to the more than six feet of snow that fell on the West Shore of Lake Almanor and Chester, the storms brought about a Plumas County Board of Supervisors declaration of a local emergency Jan. 22.
    District 3 Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who represents Chester and most of the Lake Almanor Basin, said the declaration was due largely to conditions in Chester, which was the hardest hit area in Plumas County. She also said the official act made the Basin eligible for increased resources.
    Chester Fire Department Assistant Chief and incident commander Nick Dawson provided facts Jan. 26 about the efforts of some of the additional resources.
    Among those resources were Captain Tim Williams and Antelope fire crews from the CalFire agency, previously known as the California Department of Forestry.
    "Two crews were assigned to Chester and the East Shore and one to the West Shore. They cleared areas to enable crews from PG&E to effect repairs," Dawson said.
    He also talked about the collaborative effort between all the Basinís fire departments and CalFire to clear roadways, fire hydrants and school roofs, remove trees and even clear a driveway in the instance of a medical emergency.
    He said crews were performing similar tasks Saturday, Jan. 23, around the Basin.
    ìAll of the fire departments in the Basin assigned personnel to work within their respective areas,î he said.
    ìWe knew that if we didnít get caught up over the weekend with the latest storm prediction, we would have been way overwhelmed; this could have become a life issue for residents,î he said.
    He said Supervisor Thrall and Plumas County Office of Emergency Services Director Keith Mahan were involved in all decisions.
    "Mr. Mahan and Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood were both on site and involved in the processes and incident updates," he said.
    Local team leaders were Sergeant Dean Canalia of PCSO, Chester Fire Chief Bill Turner, West Almanor Fire Chief Randy Fluke and Gary Pini, who is the fire chief for the Peninsula and Hamilton Branch fire protection districts.
    "The Basin responded 100 percent just like always and our local government moved fast tooóthey didnít sit on it. Without their support, that of CalFire and our local teams we could have been much worse off," Dawson said.

Government v. commercial
    Dawson explained use of fire crews was not intended to replace individuals or entities in providing services.
    ìThe fire crews were strictly for life hazards; where snow or trees prevented the ingress or egress of emergency services,î he said.
    He said crews were not in the Basin in lieu of private contractors, but in the role of supporting government.
    As for leaning trees, downed fences and other storm-related problems on private property, Dawson said resolution is the homeownerís responsibility.

Roof snow load
    Dawson said while some folks were concerned about the snow loads on local roofs, teams that were out Jan. 23 estimated the weight at approximately 31 pounds a square foot.
    John Cunningham of the Plumas County Building Department said Monday, Jan. 26, ìThe building department performed roof snow load sampling today in the Almanor Basin. This was done to determine the weight of snow on roofs in the area.
    ìStructures in the Almanor Basin have been required to be designed for a minimum 100 pounds per square foot snow load, since approximately 1970.î†
    ìThe result of todayís sampling is less than 40 pounds per square foot of snow on roofs in the Basin,î he said.

Outages
    PG&E reported as many as 10,000 customers as being without power during this week of storms.
    In response to questions raised about the lengthy outages in the Basin, PG&E media representative Paul Moreno said Jan. 29, ìThe principle reasons for some areas not getting restored sooner were many: no access for our equipment and vehicles; extensive damage; continually falling trees; continued bad weather; fresh outages throughout the storm; deep and wet snow, which made even snowshoeing and driving snow cats difficult.
    "We brought in snow cats from as far away as Oregon. We also used mutual aid crews from utilities in Oregon and Washington to help out in our North Valley Division.
   "While we did not use mutual aid crews in snow country, they made repairs†in the Sacramento Valley and freed up our crews so we could send more people to Plumas County.î"

Emergency calls
    Dawson said calls for service were extremely high during the storm week.
    ìChester responded to over 30 callsówe were just going so hot and heavy we just made it happen,î he said.
    He said the calls involved responding to downed power lines, trees in roadways and trees in structures.
    ìIn Chester we had five trees fall into structures,î he added.
    While the call numbers were down in Hamilton Branch, the nature of the emergencies was similar: trees in lines, a traffic accident and trees on roadways.
    The Almanor West Fire Protection District chief said his area experienced the full gamut of water issues, as well as snow-related problems and power outages.
    ìOur calls for service were too many to count. If you only counted what we were toned out for, our numbers would be much lower; but we took a very proactive approach. We were actively out and removing hazards. We didnít wait for 911 calls,î he said.
    He said in addition to the dozens of trees down in the Almanor West area he responded to downed power lines in the Prattville district.
    ìLike Chester we also had trees down on structures,î he said. Chief Fluke said those homeowners experienced very minor damage from the trees.
    ìMost were root pulled and there was so much snow on the roofs that it just buffered the impact,î he added.
    Chief Fluke also said it was very important to say thank you to the Antelope crews and Plumas County.
    ìWe were able to get the crews to assist us because of the county,î he said.
    He said the Antelope crews monitored radio traffic and ìco-respondedî on fire and ambulance calls.
    ìThey helped with snow removal and patient handling as necessary,î he said.
    The Peninsula Fire Protection District, like West Almanor responded to a low number of tone-outs that included two weather-related traffic accidents and a tree down in a power line.
    ìWhere we were the busiest was in responding to a tremendous amount of phone calls,î said district secretary Holly Coons.
    She said the fire office worked as a clearinghouse for calls to all the partnering agencies.
    ìWe connected people to our maintenance yard, PG&Eó whatever agency best fit their emergency,î she added.

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