Planned blackouts: This is 21st-century California!

By Barbara Simpson

Who knew that living in 2020 California would be reminiscent of my childhood?

Here we are, with all the modern conveniences of 2020 in a state that is considered technically first-class in this country, if not the world, and I find myself scouring my memory for some of the means we used to survive bad weather when I was a child growing up in the woods of New Jersey.

It really is mind-boggling!

When I was young my parents bought several acres of woods – land and trees and underbrush. It was on a corner of two roads – dirt roads at that – and not part of a town, just part of a county township.

Law enforcement was the county sheriff, and we had a volunteer fire department. Elementary schools were two-room schoolhouses scattered throughout the township – four grades in each room. High school was 8 miles away in the closest town.

My folks and I, (yes, I did help!) gradually cleared our land. My father built our house, adding several rooms at a time, and he drilled a well so we could have water and, eventually, running water and indoor plumbing. Before that we filled buckets of water right from nearby natural springs – and yes, we did have an outhouse!

We had tank gas for cooking, fuel oil for heat and electricity from the power company, which had strung lines and poles into the undeveloped areas where people like us lived.

Around us were many farms – people who raised dairy animals and chickens for eggs as well as those who raised crops.

Whatever any of us did for a living, we all depended on electricity, but quite honestly, it wasn’t all that dependable.

When the hurricanes blew in, the power went out. When winter brought snow and ice storms and blizzards, the power went out. When some drunk driver slammed into a utility pole, the power went out.

When that happened, we had to revert to the old ways. Out came the candles and flashlights and the kerosene lanterns. Cooking methods were simplified as were bathroom needs. Sometimes the outage lasted just a day or so, but I recall one terrible blizzard when we were in the dark for more than a week.

Along with the lack of electricity, we also lost our phone service – and in those days, most of the telephone connections were party lines!

So when we lost power, we were on our own. We survived, and for kids it often was fun roughing it – not so for our parents!

So what does all this have to do with NOW?


As I write this, our power company, PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – which, we are told, is the nation’s largest utility company, is about to turn off our power. And it’s all because of the weather forecast.

According to the weather guy, we’re in for several, days of temps in the 90s and 100s and hot winds of 55 mph or more, with gusts up to 70 mph and higher.

Hot temperatures and low humidity in Northern California isn’t unusual, nor are the winds. Here, they’re called Diablo Winds – in Southern California, they’re are called the Santa Ana Winds. They are HOT and fierce – I’ve experienced them all, and they are no fun.

So PG&E is about to experience generally normal weather conditions for this time of the year, but it really isn’t prepared. The company is concerned that the wind will bring down power lines in wooded areas and cause more of the horrific wildland fires California has experienced this year.

The Creek Fire, the largest single wildfire in California history, is still burning in two counties and is only 55% contained. Since January, 8,500 wildfires have burned more than 64 square miles of woodland, destroying 9,200 buildings and killing 31 people. Other fires are burning as well.

The basic problem is the long drought and the devastating tree-kill caused by the bark beetle. The USDA estimates that 129 million trees died since 2010 from, those two causes. It’s estimated that in just the last five years in the Sierra National Forest, 36.1 million trees were killed, mostly by the beetles.

Since those dead trees were allowed to remain, they have become instant tinder for any random spark.

The result: fiery horror for humans and wildlife.

None of these problems are new for PG&E, but it seems that they haven’t prepared for it. They’re resorting to the basic: Turn off the power so if lines come down, they won’t spark a fire.


We’re told that some 54,000 customers in 24 Northern California counties are in line to have their power turned off from about 5 p.m. to early morning, over three consecutive nights through the weekend, perhaps longer if the hot weather continues.

The outages are affecting the Bay Area, including the Oakland Hills as well as areas of Napa County and the Santa Cruz mountains.

And that includes my family.

My nice modern house has electricity for cooking, but it will be useless as will my microwave and coffee maker – and computer and answering machine, etc. I’ll keep the refrigerator and freezer closed and pray for the best, although I did buy several bags of ice for my cooler, just in case.

I wasn’t the only one buying ice – if the rush at my neighborhood grocery story is any indication!

Forget heat or AC as the furnace needs power to run.

I got out the flashlights and batteries as well as the Coleman lanterns I usually use for Yosemite camping. I have candles and matches but prefer not to use them – I don’t need fires!

It will be early to bed – no television and only battery radio – and hopefully, if I sleep late in the morning, the power will be back on.

Another interesting note in all this is that many California cities are outlawing new construction or remodeling of structures using natural gas for cooking or heat – forcing us to have all-electric homes. This attitude is supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Bottom line: We’ll be even more dependent on PG&E for our living standards.

Now, if we could only get the state to clear out the dead trees and underbrush from the forests.

Naah! That’s too logical.

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