Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Test Of My Resolve To Leave San Francisco

Since moving to rural, high desert Caliente, I've discovered that "flamers" has a different meaning from what it had in my old home in San Francisco. This is wildfire country. A truly nasty fire broke out above my place and my younger daughter's place. It's isolated territory and no homes are expected to burn or lives get lost. But it has wrought havoc with something we all take for granted--electricity.

My younger daughter lives closer to the fire, but the Kern County Fire Department says that if things continue as they are now, the fire is unlikely to reach their property. But there are evacuation alerts for her property and mine, which I think was basically erring on the side of caution. I have a clear path of escape, but their property is bit more dicey.

Nevertheless, even at scary times like this, it's important to maintain perspective and a moderate sense of humor. So just for fun, I thought I'd share my e-mail to my daughter this morning when the power finally came back on. Her name is Andrea, and she works in Bakersfield, so at least I don't have to worry about her, her husband who works in Tehachapi, or the grandkids who go to school far from the fire. Those of you who have stuck with me over the past year will recognize that this post about Caliente is somewhat different from what I used to write from San Francisco.


Speaking of modern conveniences, I was without power for 16 hours. It went off at 4:04 PM yesterday [Tuesday] and finally came on again, unexpectedly, at 10:20 this morning. SCE had just told me that the lines were all down because of the fire, and that the fire crews wouldn't let the power workers into the area.

I've learned several lessons from my first summer in the country:

1. Don't assume that all candles are "dripless." I'm still cleaning wax off the dining room tablecloth. Beegee decided that the moment I turned my back, she would play with the still-wet wax from the candle on the bar counter [Note: Begee is the new addition to the family. She is now Kitty Kelly's assistant. She's a full calico kitten, so now I guess I have to get a gingham dog]. It was splattered all the way from the espresso machine to the telephone. Big, thick globs of wax. "Designer" candles (like the one I got from Cartier) smell really nice and give off more light than you'd think.

2. Reading by candlelight is nearly-impossible. Abraham Lincoln is now even more of a hero to me than he was before. Have at least one Coleman lantern handy (I'll be getting one on our next shopping trip).

3. Gasoline-powered electrical generators are not a luxury. In addition, I was not aware that the sound of somebody else smart enough nearby to have a generator can bring on a murderous rage in me.

4. Computers don't like power failures. It took almost an hour to get my main computer back up and running (which is why I'm only just now writing to you).

5. Have plenty of water available, and never let the Sparklett's cooler run low. Toilets don't flush without water, and electrical water pumps don't operate without power.

6. When the TV and radios don't work, it isn't quite as quiet in the country as you might think. Suddenly, I could hear the wind blowing and twigs snapping, not to mention cats playing and thundering across the floors.

7. The SCE repair crews are both brave and efficient. Customer service--not so much. Besides giving me bad information or no information, they told me they appreciated my calling about the outage (what the hell did they expect?), and each agent I talked to thanked me and reminded me that I can check SCE information on And how, exactly, am I supposed to do that when I don't have any power, goddammit?

8. If you already had enough ice made, the freezer doesn't completely thaw in 16 hours, and if you don't open the refrigerator door too often, the food stays cool there, too.

9. The electronic ignition oven won't light with a match, but the burners will. So hot coffee is available, and all those canned foods come in very handy. Life is possible even when your microwave doesn't work.


Sidenote: Since writing this e-mail and post, the situation changed somewhat. The Kern County Fire Department has called in federal, state and local resources, including the Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management. There are now 1600 firefighters on the fire lines. One structure has been destroyed, and 250 in the Lake Isabella area (not near us) are presently threatened. So far no lives lost, thank God. Evacuations have been ordered for some of the smaller communities outside Lake Isabella. The fire is about 50% contained, but full containment is not expected until tomorrow. Well, nobody said country life was easy.


LL said...

I'm sorry for your troubles.

Joel Farnham said...


I am glad you are okay and back.

Fire is a scary thing.

Are you going to get a generator and a professional surge protector for your computer as well?

The professional surge protector is a device which totally seperates your computer from power. It is designed to allow you five minutes for a controlled shutdown.

With the generator, I suggest you get one which will keep your refrigerator running as well as your water pumps. Find out how much power and what type of power you will need. 240 volts and/or 120 volts.

If you can set up a dribble hose on top of your house and hook it to your water source, you could conceivably turn it on and have your house watered down continuously while you make your escape. This would enable you to cut down the chances of a spark falling onto your house and burning it up, at least as long as the generator lasts. :-)

Unknown said...

LL: Thanks for your concern. It looks like we're all going to be OK. There were no flareups overnight, and containment could be attained by late tonight instead of tomorrow. It all depends on those treacherous winds in the canyons.

Unknown said...

Joel: Thanks for the suggestions all the way around. I'm taking them to heart. My place is located in one of those odd places where a fire would conceivably "jump" the property, so the dribble hoses are an excellent idea. Of course I'd have to get the water pump on generator too since I have my own well. We'll be checking out generators this weekend.

I lucked out with the weather and the food. One of the things that slowed the fire down was the weak winds in the area along with unusually cool temperatures after a week of 100+ temperatures. The temperature on Tuesday night dropped into the low 50s, so the food was still cold when the power came back on. I wouldn't count on being that lucky the next time.

BevfromNYC said...

LawHawk: Wow, that's pretty scary stuff. Along with the other suggestions, I recommend a wind up emergency radio. You wind it up and it will work for about an hour no batteries needed. You can also get a wind up flashlight too.
And if you do not already have one, get a landline standard slimline telephone (not cordless)to plug in. In case of power failures, landline phone still work!

And in case of a wide spread power outage, have cash money. ATMs and credit cards don't work without power!

That is the end of my emergency preparedness lecture for the day!

Be safe!

Oh, and just in case - Tip on how to get wax out of carpets...

AndrewPrice said...

Oh, come on, it's a myth that fire hurts anyone! It's just a lie told by the fire industry to keep us buying water and expensive fire engines! ;-)

Seriously, if it starts getting brighter and warmer, run... don't walk, to somewhere cooler.

Unknown said...

Bev: Thanks for the tips. Don't ask me why, but I have been a longtime collector of batteries. I always have plenty of fresh batteries and battery-operated radios, though I like the idea of the wind-ups.

The last time we had a much shorter power failure, I went looking for old-fashioned wind-up clocks. They're scarcer than hens teeth, but I now have two battery-operated alarms clocks (and, you guessed it, plenty of batteries).

You've also reminded me just how smart my mom was. After I had candle-wax collected very thickly under all my fingernails, I remembered her remedy for wax on the carpet, and she coulda written that tip.

I'm afraid the cash versus ATM suggestion won't work for me since I have to drive thirty miles to use either. LOL

Unknown said...

Andrew: LOL. Always good advice. I've also been told that when the popcorn starts popping spontaneously, it's time to get out of Dodge.

I think the Boss upstairs heard our prayers. The air outside is unusually calm, and it's the occasionally vicious winds in the canyons that drive the worst of the wildfires. The fire crews are quickly getting the upper hand, and if the stillness holds, they should have the fire completely contained by this evening or early tomorrow morning.

Writer X said...

Stay safe, LawHawk!

Unknown said...

WriterX: Thanks. We'll be fine. In fact, the school fund-raising spaghetti dinner tonight is going on as scheduled, and since it is located closer to the fire than my place, they would have called it off or at least cautioned us before we went. So now you just need to worry that I don't overload myself on pasta. LOL

patti said...


Unknown said...

Patti: I don't have to worry. My liberal friends tell me I'm all wet.

StanH said...

It is amazing how noisy nowhere can be. Years ago we had the remnants of Hurricane Opal come through and it knocked out our power for a week, and at the time we were far enough out from the city to be in the sticks, and it was a little freaky at night. What was funny we got used to it, and started playing board games, building puzzles, conversation, and going to bed as a family shortly after sundown, kinda cool.

Perhaps for you need an ATV for a quick escape?

Unknown said...

Stan: It is eerily comforting after awhile not to hear city noises and electronics. But it wasn't long before I started hearing noises in the wall (real or imaginary). I've either had city sounds or family sounds most of my life, so this is a truly new experience. I have a four-wheeler on the property all the time, but my roads out are easy to navigate once you've gone the two miles of dirt road to the paved highways (two-lane blacktop, of course). I worry a bit more about my daughter where she has forest all around and four miles of dirt road with heavy, dry vegetation before getting to my place. But she's already been through a couple of much worse burns, and doesn't seem phased by it much.

rlaWTX said...

RE: #5 -- during the "noticing how things work" part of growing up (9-12yo) we had a well. So, the idea of electricity and water went hand-in-hand. It wasn't until college that it dawned on me that water & electricity were not tied together in the "real" world... it's funny how the brain works.

be safe!

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