"Water is life," David Benzler says as he recalls a weekend of uncertainty. He and his family live in the wooded hills north of Red Bluff. He says his family lost power for much of the weekend.
The Benzlers rely on well water, and say they have had to deal with very few power outages over the years. That's why this weekend was such a shock. "We couldn't pump water out to drink, to shower, to go to the bathroom, anything," he says. He and his brother Kevin took their elderly mother to a hotel Saturday night because they were worried she would suffer in the sweltering heat.
Temperatures soared above 100, as news of the Stoll Fire broke out five miles to the south on the outskirts of the west side of Red Bluff.
"It was like living in the 1800's," says Kevin.
Saturday afternoon, a PG&E spokesperson called Action News Now and said an estimated 10,000 people, from Chico, to Red Bluff, to Redding, would be without power. According to the company, power would be cut to some because flames were threatening PG&E facitilies, while others would have their power cut at the "request of CalFire."
CalFire confirms that the Stoll Fire Incident Commander requested power be shut locally around the Stoll Fire, for firefighter and public safety. PG&E says some of the power-outages, like in Chico, had nothing to do with the Stoll Fire.
In early June, PG&E sent letters to more than 500,000 homes in "Tier 3" zones, informing them that in high fire danger, and as a last resort, the company would be cutting power to minimize further risk of life. This sparked widespread fear across communities in the mountains and foothills. Kevin Benzler says his household did not receive one of these letters. But he worries that what happened to him over the weekend is just a taste of what's to come. Says Benzler, "There has to be some way to hold them accountable to not put people into jeopardy like that. Just the mere fact that of the heat that came down yesterday of 108 degrees, and leaving people in their homes with no air conditioning and no water, that's insane."
David Benzler says the wind on the Stoll Fire was blowing in the opposite direction, and their property was not threatened. He says, "The wind was blowing from the north, so for us to be cut-off out here was just uncalled for."
Many people have speculated that PG&E's new "power-safety shut-off" policy is in response to recent expensive lawsuits. "It seemed to me they were doing something in response to getting sued," says Kevin Benzler.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 14 recent fires were caused by fallen PG&E power lines.
The company now faces a number of lawsuits from various insurance companies, and announced it could have to pay $2.5 billion in compensation.
PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno says it's not clear why the Benzler's property lost power. He says it could have been a power pole
that caught fire, or any number of reasons. But he says all families in areas of high fire danger need to be prepared for a new climate.
He says years of drought have created dangerous fire conditions. Says Moreno, "We're existing under very high-hazard conditions, so we have to adjust to the new California." He recommends that everyone living in these areas have a safety plan, and be prepared.