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Our Future After The Fire, Power shutoffs: the new normal?

Action News Now investigates whether PG&E will mandate blackouts during Red Flag Warnings for the foreseeable future.

Posted: Oct 14, 2019 9:47 AM
Updated: Oct 14, 2019 9:48 AM

PARADISE, Calif. - "My husband saved the business by putting the flames out himself. But we lost our home, 15 of our classic cars. So we felt the hurt," said Linda Lyons, co-owner of Lyon's Express Oil & Lube.

The Camp Fire devastated the town of Paradise.

The rubble, left in eerie silence.

Then, hope: Lyons Oil & Lube flicked on the "Open" sign, signaling hundreds of businesses to follow in it's footsteps.

"We're wanting to stay positive, as our customers come in they see a familiar face," Linda said.

Nearly a year later, a major wind storm triggered PG&E to cut power to nearly 800,000 customers across the state.

"It feels like being thrown another block to jump over, people are losing their food, their livelihood, can't get to work, can't get gas to put into their generators," Linda said.

It's too soon to tell the economic impacts of the days-long shutoff. But small businesses already feel the sting.

"This is a domino effect - one day you can absorb, but the second day?" Linda said.

The Public Safety Power Shutoff is just part of PG&E's state-mandated wildfire mitigation plan, along with it's new fire-spotting cameras and satellite, vegetation management, and hardening their equipment.

"Having that tool in your tool-box to keep communities safe is something we have to consider," said PG&E Spokesperson Denny Boyle.

I asked Cal Fire if they think the shutoff was necessary.

"I don't know what conversations took place far above the county level, but again, that's not really our concern, with our people, our boots on the ground, our concern is emergency response," said Cal Fire Butte County's Rick Carhart.

"Is this the right thing, did PG&E make the right choice?" I asked Paradise business owner Paul Lyons.

"There's nothing really left to burn much. I mean even if there is a high wind. After the horse is out, you close the gate, it's too late, the horse is already dead," said Co-owner of Lyon’s Express, Paul Lyons.

Others disagree.

"I do think it's the new normal, and people have to realize they just have to be prepared", said another Camp Fire survivor.

"We just accept this as the new normal? I asked Linda Lyons.

"No, this is not the new normal and we should not accept this," said Linda.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said PG&E customers should be "outraged" and "infuriated" about the shutoffs.

“It was unnecessary. They're in bankruptcy because of their terrible management going back decades. They've created these conditions, it was unnecessary. We're doing everything in our power, my Gosh, to help them help themselves," said Governor Newsom on Wednesday.

He called on PG&E to upgrade it's out-of-date system.

Like using underground power lines as they rebuild Paradise, making it harder for them to start a wildfire.

PG&E says it could take as long as 5 years to get these power lines under the ground. So for now, anyone rebuilding has to install a temporary power pole.

Back to the blackouts.

Is this our new normal? Will we still see them every time there's a Red Flag Warning? I asked PG&E if there was an end in sight to these power shutoffs.

"Well, not yet, I would say," said Doyle.

"We can pinch hit for a couple of days but any length of time? It's hard," Linda said.

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A late-season winter storm arrives Saturday and stays through Tuesday. Expect 1-2 inches of Valley rain, 1-3 feet of mountain snow, and even some thunderstorms on Sunday. The heaviest precipitation will occur on Sunday.
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