We call them natural disasters. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, etc. Mother nature cooks ‘em up and tosses ‘em at us. We either get out of the way or get sucked into their destruction.
But wildfires? These are different.
Some wildfires are natural disasters. When dry thunderstorms produce lightning without rain that strikes extremely dry grasslands and trees that spark and start fires, that’s natural.
However, for many of the California wildfires burning right now, man has started them. Not natural, human-caused. The Holy Fire in August of 2018 that prompted the evacuation of 20,000 was allegedly started by an arsonist that messaged two weeks back that, “The place is going to burn.” Whether arson, careless campfires, vehicle mishap, or a tossed cigarette.
There’s another human-caused way these fires start and that’s the story I want to share with you today. They’re caused by the electric company. How’s that you might ask? Let me explain and then connect the dots on how what’s happening on the west coast might have far-reaching effects across much of the country.
16 Hours Without Power, Every Day
To prevent wildfires, one electric company in California is pro-actively cutting off power to its customers. That’s sounds crazy, but it’s happening.
When there’s extremely dry conditions, it’s been determined that poorly maintained power lines and electrical equipment spark. It’s those sparks that hit dry or dead vegetation and start fires. According to Cal Fire, that’s how 12 wildfires started that tore through northern California in October of 2017. We won’t name the power company and play the blame game. That’s not what’s important here.
What’s happening right now is that the current summer of 2018 heat wave and moderate drought is taking a toll on crops and the land as well as the electric grid. Power consumption increases as residents try to cool themselves.
With the transmission lines running at a maximum, they heat up and sag a bit. When underbrush is not trimmed back, these drooping lines can touch branches or dry brush and spark. That can cause a wildfire. Aging power equipment and transformers that suddenly fail and ignite under the heavy load also are sometimes responsible.
(Update: the Camp Fire of November 2018 in northern California is now being investigated as a crime scene allegedly started by that same power company.)
So, to prevent fires, a large power company is cutting electricity for extended periods of time in dry areas they have identified as “risky.” That’s their plan. Cut power to millions. Arbitrarily. From Bullhead City to Napa Valley and beyond.
Tara Butchart, an MPS customer in northern California, is in one of those “risky” areas near the Cranson Fire in Idyllwild. Her power was cut. She and her neighbors have been forced to rely on mega industrial generators that supply what she describes as “severely limited” electricity.
Basically, it’s enough to run a light bulb or two. Tara’s on a four hours on, eight hours off electric brownout rotation. At one point, her power was even out for five days straight.
This resulted in a loss of refrigeration. Tara shared that she has had to break into her Patriot Pantry emergency food storage to feed her kids. “You’ll never think you’ll need them, but times like this prove you really need to be ready for anything,” she recently posted on the MPS Facebook page.
Tara also mentioned that one of the most significant issues in rural communities around her with losing power is water. Nearly all in her area are on wells. Even the few water districts nearby use wells. So, you lose power, you lose water, a double whammy.
The power company there suggests that customers in the affected areas “have a plan” for dealing with the brutally hot conditions without power. Luckily, Tara was prepared. She went through a similar incident about 15 years ago which prompted her to start keeping a supply of emergency food and other “preps.”
In summation, Tara says, “I think this was a big wake up call to many who hadn’t planned ahead.”
Damaged Transmission Systems and a Fire Tornado
This fire whirl was thought to have created a spinning vortex of 143 mph which is equivalent to an EF-3 tornado. That was enough to sever power lines with the fallen tower as well as move vehicles and uproot trees.
After a recent wildfire burned a thousand homes in Shasta County, CA, inspectors were startled to encounter a toppled transmission tower. It seems that the blaze caused a spinning vortex, much like a tornado.
Outages, increased demand due to extreme heat, damaged electrical infrastructure, and rolling brownouts leading to possible long-term blackouts all are placing a strain on folks whose daily lives depend our already frail national electric grid.
The Problem Can Spread Across the U.S.
These power issues in California have tentacles that can reach out across many other states. Excess electricity is sold daily from power company to power company. With less energy available out west, some major suppliers are indicating that they may not have power to sell across the county to other areas in need.
The U.S. has a power grid like a web. As power is traded across the system and across state lines, there’s usually enough available to balance the demand of our population. Through large transmission lines, your home’s power may be coming from a source a thousand miles away. If that supply is not available, rolling brownouts, could quickly appear in an area near you too, even if you live far from California.
It’s Up to You to Prepare
FEMA’s not going to help with this one. You must be your own first-responder. We’ve shared this question before that you should answer for yourself:
“If power was out at my home for days or weeks, what’s my plan to feed my family knowing refrigeration would likely not be available.”
Like Tara, you need to be ready for anything. The self-reliant lifestyle we choose to live helps us get through those critical times when the inevitable emergency strikes.
Whether it is a 1-Week Food Supply Ammo Can (if you have not seen these, they're great as a grab’n’go) or a substantial food storage plan like a 6-Month Emergency Food Supply that sells for under $1,000 (look at all the food you get), the point is to start building a plan today to be prepared.
A little time spent planning today will make what comes tomorrow much easier, wherever you live and for whatever natural or human-caused disaster may appear.
Have a great weekend and please, stay safe and alert!
Keith Bansemer, MPS