A rainy winter produced an abundance of grass and brush that could go off like kindling if ignited by a spark or a downed power line. Preventative outages by PG&E could leave tens of thousands of Napa Valley residents without power for days.
If you still haven’t prepared yourself and your family for an emergency, now is the time.
The county government is ready. Kevin Twohey, the county’s emergency services coordinator, has set up lines of communication with PG&E, reactivated local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), and stands ready to brief supervisors, mayors and city managers before and during a power outage or fire.
Cal Fire’s Jason Martin, the newly appointed assistant chief for the Napa County Fire Department, says the county’s free chipping program serving the unincorporated area is more popular than ever, fielding 930 requests last year – up 40 percent from the previous year. Cameras have been placed on Mount St. Helena, Atlas Peak and Berryessa Peak to help emergency responders and residents track fires (go to www.alertwildfire.org).
Supervisor Diane Dillon and other regional officials successfully persuaded the California Public Utilities Commission to hold PG&E responsible for notifying county public safety and health departments 72 hours before a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). The county, in turn, will activate its contingency plans and warn the public to be ready.
For each outage, PG&E has to provide the county’s Office of Emergency Services with maps of which areas will be without power. Twohey’s team can cross-reference those with their own maps showing homes and residential care facilities where people rely on electricity for medical care – from those on critical life support to those who rely on rechargeable carts to move around.
Despite those optimistic assurances, just hours after our meeting on Friday PG&E announced it would shut off power to parts of rural Napa County and Lake Berryessa — starting at 6 a.m. Saturday. We hope PG&E takes county representatives and customers seriously and provides the 72-hour notification in the future.
It’s obvious that Dillon, Twohey and Martin have devoted many hours to getting the county ready. But residents still have the primary responsibility to look after themselves and their neighbors.
When the county issues a red flag warning – typically due to windy, hot and dry conditions – start paying attention. Last weekend’s red flag warning, the first of 2019, turned out to be prescient, with a pair of wildfires breaking out in Pope Valley and Guinda. The Ink Fire was fully contained on Saturday night, but the Sand Fire in Yolo County was 50 percent contained as of Monday evening.
The next time there’s a red flag warning, keep an eye out for Nixle alerts. Stay abreast of weather forecasts. Get your go-bag ready in case you need to evacuate. Make sure your neighbors are ready, especially the most vulnerable ones. Store up fresh water for your family and your pets. Keep your flashlights and batteries handy. Get a full tank of gas in case the gas stations lose power.
A PSPS won’t count as an “emergency” in the eyes of the federal government, so don’t expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring any resources to bear. But an extended outage will feel like an emergency for those of us affected. And the more unprepared we are, the harder it will be.
We applaud local officials for beefing up the county’s emergency-related infrastructure and advocating for adequate notification of a PG&E outage.
Napa County may or may not suffer a major wildfire this summer. But a power outage is a matter of when, not if.