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Preparation is key this fire season

This week has been satisfyingly warm, and my allergies are in high C from all of the pollen in the air, and not long ago we had a spectacular view from our front porch of a massive lightning storm hanging low over Tahoe.

As I counted the strikes averaging out every eight seconds, I mulled over the risk of fire, and realized just how attuned to fire we have all become and are still becoming in our area.

I think perhaps due to our proximity to the Camp Fire in Paradise, and the shocking speed and severity of the blaze, documented by hundreds on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram by those who were one moment going about their daily lives, the next moment fleeing into a tunnel of flames and smoke, it truly hit home that fire is something we really need to prepare for.

Portola City Council by Mayor Tom Cooley commented at a recent meeting about the new policies pertaining to how the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is working with CalFire and the Office of Emergency Services to reduce the risk of utility infrastructure starting wildfires.

Essentially, power companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) may shut off electric power, referred to as “de-energization” or Public Safety Power Shut-offs (PSPS), to protect public safety under California law during the upcoming fire season.

These de-energizations may be quite prolonged — up to a week or more, depending on a variety of environmental factors, according to CPUC, and the biggest suggestions offered are all focused on preparedness.

Looking around my house, I know that if the power went down for a week right this moment, we are not fully prepared. We need to stock up on fuel for the generator, the candles need replenishing, and I need to round up the converter for the car so I can plug in my laptop and hopefully get some work done — if the cell phone towers all have backup generators ready to go.

At last check, that issue is still being addressed, as cell phone towers are each unique to their carrier and will each need different things to function in the event of a prolonged outage.

Other things to think about include water for drinking and cleaning for at least a week for humans and animals, batteries, and a cool medication and food storage when the fridge and freezer are no longer cold and it’s likely to be above 90 outside.

I realized as I began to truly go down the checklist that usually I’m working off of a cold, snowy forecast with this type of outage. I haven’t really experienced many prolonged outages in summer time.

It makes some things easier, but other things will require a bit more ingenuity and creativity. It is also sobering to think about how people utilizing medical equipment will be affected — people with medical conditions that require the use of electricity for things like wheelchairs, breathing equipment, and home dialysis.

It is urged on prepareforpowerdown.com that all should have a plan in place, but it is especially critical for those relying on electricity for medical reasons. A plan should include a backup location where you can go, ensuring that your energy company is aware of your medical device, and considering a safe backup power source such as a generator.

Bob Marshall, General Manager of Plumas Sierra Rural Electric (PSREC), commented on the topic of generators and said that if you are going to install a generator and connect to your home’s electrical system to ensure that it is done to code using an automated system like a Generac switch, or a manual double-pull double-throw switch that separates your house from the grid.

Failure to do so could cause injury or fire, leading to potentially massive liability on and disconnection from the grid. Fair warning, first-time generator users!

I can say that despite the inconvenience and hassle of the de-energizations to come, I would rather be safe than sorry this summer. I sincerely hope Plumas County will be able to get through this fire season without major incident; this is home, with or without rolling blackouts, and on the bright side, the stars look better without light pollution anyhow.

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