Fire officials say a wildland fire last week that left approximately 49,000 El Dorado County residents without power at the peak of a heat wave illustrates the importance of disaster preparedness.
The fire July 1 was started by a vehicle traveling along Highway 50 and closed a section of the freeway during the evening commute. The fire occurred near a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation, and power was cut for a short period.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said it was clear that many people in the area weren't prepared to cope with the relatively brief power outage. Emergency preparedness experts say people need to be prepared to do without water or power for a minimum of 72 hours.
During the July 1 outage, local stores were inundated with panicked people looking for food, water, and ice, while gas stations had to deal with people who needed gas and pumps that weren't working due to the lack of electricity, according to a Cal Fire news release. Officials noted that Highway 50 and Green Valley Road became parking lots because of road closures and resulting detours. Vehicles overheated and some ran out of gas, further snarling traffic.
"Emergency services are here to assist 24/7, 365 days a year, and we do this with little trouble probably 98 percent of the time," Kelly Keenan, Cal Fire unit chief, said in a written statement. "But when a large incident taxes our local personnel or a massive incident impacts California at a state level, people need to be prepared to take care of themselves and their families."
Keenan urged people to prepare a disaster plan and "go bags," or disaster supply kits, for their home and vehicle, noting that a disaster can leave people on their own, without power, water or phone service for days or even weeks.
Cal Fire offers several disaster planning tips:
Back-up generators can supply electricity for essentials such as refrigerators, heat or air, wells and home medical units such as oxygen or dialysis.
Have properly secured fuel for the back-up generator.
Have a supply of water for all family members, including pets and livestock. The rule of thumb is a minimum of 3 gallons a day per person in warm weather. Small children, as well as older people, or those who are ill or have special needs, may require more.
Have a stock of non-perishable food that requires minimal preparation, keeping in mind those people with special dietary needs.
Have food, water and other supplies for pets and livestock.
Have on hand a battery or solar-powered radio, flashlights and charging units for cell phones
Prepare a "go bag" with essentials in case you need to evacuate or are away from home when a disaster strikes.
Remember to recycle all perishable supplies such as water, food and fuel.
People who are part of an "at risk population" and would likely require assistance from others are encouraged to include those key individuals in their emergency planning process, update contact information at least annually, and review and practice the emergency plan.