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.
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.
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