Triple Whammy Sparks Huge Power Problems for Californians

As long as humans have existed, we've dealt with problems. We grow by successfully tackling issues and avoiding obstacles to reach our goals.

But what happens when problems pile up so high you can't see over them? And what if some of those problems are literally unsolvable?

That's the situation for many in our most populous state. As of a few days ago, Californians were dealing with 23 major wildfires. And more than 300 smaller ones. The blazes are destroying homes, devastating landscapes and polluting the air.

The state is also plagued by a COVID-19 death toll of more than 100 per day. Plus triple digit temperatures in some areas, taxing the already vulnerable electric grid.

Thousands Ordered to Evacuate

California is not the only state facing hardships in 2020. But Golden State residents seem to be taking the brunt of it right now. Last year at this time, California had experienced about 4,000 fires. This year the state has already had more than 6,750.

Mainly responsible are lightning strikes. Over a recent weekend, approximately 11,000 lightning strikes were recorded. They ignited 367 new fires. One fire was described as a "fire tornado" due to its intensity.

Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate their homes due to the fires. Especially in Napa, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. More than 40,000 acres of the Mojave National Preserve have been torched.

In addition to homes and businesses, cattle ranches are being threatened. Firefighters are challenged with steep, rugged terrain and thick, dry brush.

The fires are sparking power outages. But there is also the threat of planned outages to limit the spread of fires. Either way, people swelter in the heat when their power goes out.

'An Almost Oppressive Level of Complexity'

In the past, inmate fire crews from nearby prisons have helped battle fires. But the coronavirus is limiting their ability to contribute.

Mark Ghilarducci is the director of California's office of emergency services. He said the pandemic is bringing "an almost oppressive level of complexity" to fire planning. Including evacuation plans and manpower reductions.

The California fire season is nearly year 'round now. But August through November represents the worst stretch.

"And if that's not bad enough, now we have to deal with a worldwide pandemic," Ghilarducci said. "In a fire season. With the power off."

Pandemic Changes Evacuation Procedures

The pandemic has dramatically altered evacuation procedures. Protocols now include health screenings for those entering shelters. And separating evacuees with COVID-19 symptoms.

Plus additional cleaning of facilities and prepackaged meals. As well as the repurposing of college dorms, campgrounds and hotels into evacuation shelters.

Scenes we've previously witnessed only in third-world countries are playing out in California. Including evacuees leading their goats, cows, pigs and other animals to school parking lots. That's where they receive food, water and hand sanitizer.

Health workers worry that smoke from the fires will make people more susceptible to the virus. The National Weather Service predicts this. Air quality will be "very poor for the foreseeable future."

And weather forecasters fear things will get even worse this fall. That's when winds traditionally become stronger. And the landscape gets dryer.

Blackouts Already Affecting 350,000

In years past, many Californians have sought refuge from the heat. At shopping malls, theaters and beaches. But the pandemic has restricted or eliminated those options.

So, they stay home and use their air conditioners. That recent power demand has resulted in the most serious statewide energy shortage in nearly two decades.

The California Independent System Operator declared a state of emergency last week. And that means rolling blackouts are starting.

Recent blackouts cut power to about 220,000 PG&E people in northern California. And to more than 130,000 Southern California Edison residents.

No Power to Spare

Normally, adjoining states send excess power to California. To help out in emergencies. But the heat wave has affected them as well.

Utility groups are encouraging residents to use as little energy as possible. By keeping the thermostat no lower than 78 degrees. And unplugging unused appliances.

Last year, planned power shut offs by PG&E in California caused many issues. And angered many citizens. This year, PG&E workers say the impact will be less due to steps they've taken.

Including new equipment allowing transmission and distribution lines to be analyzed at night. And the addition of switching devices. The network of weather stations has also been increased.

Generator Is Only Solution

Only time will tell if these measures make this year's fire season more tolerable for Californians than last year's.

Regardless, there will be outages. From the heat, from the fires and from the planned blackouts. And not just in California. Power outages occur everywhere.

That's why more than ever before, we need to be prepared for disasters. And the best thing you can do for you and your family is to have a plan in place and supplies ready before the next one hits.

An obvious choice to help with power outages is to have a generator on hand.

But if that generator runs on gas, there could be a bigger problem than not having power.

That's why we recommend using a solar generator instead.

You can use it to run kitchen appliances. Power your personal or medical devices. Or light up a room with an LED light string... for weeks at a time.

There is no worry about running it inside your house because it does not produce fumes like a gas generator.

And it recharges using only the power of the sun, so you don't have to worry about gas shortages either.

See this personal solar power system in action [video]


  • BOYD VON NORDECK HUMPHERYS - August 26, 2020

    Good smoky morning. We inherit the coastal smoke as it drifts through. The predictions for much warmer and drier weather for the Western US, it would seem there is a greater potential for some disastrous fires,especially for the Pacific North West. Those who have driven the coastal highways and viewed the almost black dense forests along the road can only imagine what kind of fire storm might result in this tinder box. Authorities in those areas have cautioned those who like to visit their remote fishing and hidden chalets, “If we see some not before experienced fire blizzards, you are on your own, we cannot reach you on the remote logging roads, there are not enough air tankers in the country to make any sort of difference, plan now for an evacuation”. The dense forests of our pristine coastal areas present an immense tinder box with warmer temperatures and sparse moisture.
    Regards, B. Humpherys

  • Susan Christian - August 26, 2020

    Thank you Robert, you covered most everything on the situation here in California. But you missed one important point…Governor Newsom cut funding to the fire department and cut firefighters pay!
    This is the 3rd summer in a row that we have had power outages, major fires, unhealthy air, etc.

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