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Wildfire in Sylmar, California. (Youtube)
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No Power And Little Patience: How The Power Shutoffs Are Testing The Elderly In Northern California

The Globe takes a look into how older citizens in rural county are dealing with the blackout

By Evan Symon, October 12, 2019 8:37 am

All this week across Northern California a power shutoff has been in place to prevent wildfires. Dry conditions and windy conditions are the perfect fire starter if a line goes down, and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) didn’t want to risk it. Consequentially, lines across Northern California are being checked out on the ground and in the air for possible points where a wildfire could start.

However, instead of a simple precaution, the power shutoff of over 700,000 over several days made international headlines. Berkeley had to cancel classes. Businesses closed. The talk of lawsuits cropped up due to a ‘bailout’ of PG&E over wildfires. And, most concerning, the poor, elderly, and disabled were detrimentally affected.

Yankee Hill in remote Tuolumne County is just one of dozens of small towns hurt by outages. Local resident Ethel Morgan, who is quickly approaching 90, told the Globe of the struggles just to keep going by for a few days.

“If it wasn’t for my grandson I don’t know if I’d be here talking to you,” Morgan told the Globe. “He brought in one of his generators, jugs of water, and helped my neighbors borrow some too.”

“We’ve lost power before on account of the fires. It’s always been the same. Some of us need more help than others or require machines to keep going, and we bother everyone until we can get our own source of power, and food, and everything else,” said Morgan chuckling before she resumed her serious tone. “This time though, this time it fell on deaf ears. There’s just so many. We had to find ways to live.

I grew up during the Depression in Missouri, and we didn’t have generators back then. But it sure felt the same. Waiting for help and none coming.”

But Ethel lucked out: she had family. Her Grandson, Tyler, lives in nearby Sonora. A home health aide and a former Meals on Wheels volunteer, Tyler knows a lot of people struggling in the area.

“It’s not a great situation,” said Tyler. “Usually it’s not easy as it is, as people I help out need all sorts of things done. But now, with no electricity, daily life is a challenge.”

“Some don’t have gas for heating, so that means we need heater hookups, or for out here, wood for fireplaces. Two of the people I help out I had to stop them from using propane camper stoves indoors. These are people who struggle to use stoves let alone something way more complicated and dangerous to them.”

“I got a lot of bulk flashlights on Amazon, and they luckily made it here on time. And I managed to get some generators. Don’t even ask how.”

“I also got some cheap Styrofoam coolers and ice for those that needed something cool or if they didn’t want to lose anything in their fridge.”

“All told it took a few trips, but it should help them last.”

Also not normal for him during the shut-down is the number of visits.

“I check in at least twice a day to people who don’t have family checking in. Going in once a day or every three days or twice a week is usually what I do, but I’m just concerned, you know? These people have no power and don’t use cell phones. With everything out, let alone in the dark, they couldn’t otherwise get help. I know County workers and other people in my shoes are doing the same.”

Tuolumne County, as well as other small counties, have both county and private medical and wellness workers  doing all they can to help them out.

Wildfire in Northern California. (Youtube)

In Sonora, a client of Tyler’s, Helen Wright, is furious over PG&E’s decision to cut the power.

“I need to always have my home over a certain temperature. When it gets cold I need that heater or my body might fail,” said Wright.

“When they did this, and offered no help besides, what, calling in and maybe getting lucky, they let everyone go on their own devices.”

“It made me feel like they wanted me to die.”

Tyler’s Grandmother, Ethel, was also not happy.

“We’ve had people leave because of no power. There’s been fights over batteries at stores. They may be trying to save themselves from lawsuits, but they are ruining the lives of hundreds and thousands of people who have no choice.”

Across the effected regions, everyone seems to have something to say. Families are now stuck providing childcare despite having to go to work. Elderly people like Ethel and Helen are stuck with limited options. Those needing electricity for things like dialysis machines are wondering if they’re going to die. Even Governor Gavin Newsom has denounced what PG&E has done because of “greed and mismanagement.” 

PG&E, for their part, has set up information centers across Northern California. There, residents can find out how much longer their power will be off, use the restroom, charge phones and other essentials, and get help finding places to go.

“It’s not enough,” responded Tyler. “So what if they are helping out with a few essentials? It’s not nearly everything people need. It’s shutting it all off with no solution because they felt like it in case a fire started. But it’s not worth it, especially with so many people suffering.”

“Wildfires are an act of God more or less. Deciding to shut off power, to save money on lawsuits and fire damage costs rather than keep people alive. That’s heartless.”

“They’re going to lose pretty much any goodwill they had left here.”

As of Friday over 300,000 are still without power, with no word on whether the rest will be able to get it back soon.

Evan Symon

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at evan@californiaglobe.com.
Evan Symon
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14 thoughts on “No Power And Little Patience: How The Power Shutoffs Are Testing The Elderly In Northern California

  1. How is the absence of electricity affecting all the electric car twats who are saving the planet by buying an over prices but tax payer subsidized car. How magnanimous of them.

  2. How is the absence of electricity affecting all the electric car twats who are saving the planet by buying an over-priced but tax-payer subsidized car. How magnanimous of them.

  3. We all need to politically then economically hammer these companies.. They are a Monopoly Utility…their Profits should be fixed and unavailable until such time their infrastructure can sustain itself.. They want out of Liability for fires.. that is obvious.. They should not be let out of Liability for fires.. Because they cut back on the proper maintence of lands around their High Power Lines. There is another “Dirty Little Secret” this is a test.. to see how people react.. Keep in mind at the same time the State of California No longer funds the emergency ham radio system the only system which can work in any reasonably foreseeable crisis. They did this as part of their intent to completely cut off communications between one part of the country and other.. That is a Political Act.

    Much more to this power shut off than meets the eye.

  4. I would say Tyler is an exceptional person, and his grandmother should be proud of his desire to help others. No one pay your electric bill this month…gee, had to shut off my bank account.

  5. Why doesn’t everyone affected go to Sacramento and SHUT DOWN the government until they fix the problem that they created themselves?

    PG&E is a public, regulated company. Their rates are regulated, as are their operations. The “evil” corporation didn’t do this to you, your communist dictators did. Take out your frustrations on the people who caused the problem. Throw them all out and start over, this time without ‘open’ primaries and public employee unions.

    Welcome to the gulag, comrade.

    1. Mark you are absolutely correct. The next step is the state to takeover the utility to “fix” the problem. Then there will be no power.

  6. It seems to me that the power companies would make sure during the fall that the tall trees trimmed to under power line height, brush, leaves, any flammable kindling to be racked up and making sure their lines are secure.
    The State will not do that for the forest further from the line because they have this environmental /climate change
    craze to save birds, bees , rodents or whatever that worries their buzzed heads.
    Still faced with the State’s insanity, the power company would be better off with aforementioned plan.
    Might be dodging lawsuits which will bankrupt them.
    Just a thought.

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