A number of Western states had record-setting wildfires in 2020, 2021 and 2022. In California, the hardest hit, nearly 10,000 fires burned more than 4.2 million acres of land. After every fire, the news media reported the widespread loss of electric power preceding the fire, due to utilities such as PG&E implementing their frequent public safety power shutoffs. The media often reports on the negative effect of post-fire power outages, which can last weeks for some utility customers.
To better understand what can be done pre- and post-disaster, consider the story of Ted Stashak’s ranch in Sonoma County. His was one of the properties affected by the 2020 Glass Fire, which burned more than 67,000 acres in California.
A generator to the rescue
“The Glass Fire burned our entire property,” Stashak said. “Some of our barns on the property burned completely, and a lot of equipment was damaged.”
Fires had come dangerously close to Stashak’s property before the Glass Fire. Due to the public safety power shutoffs that occur during these fires, Stashak’s ranch would lose power entirely—including to the well, his only source of water.
To ensure his home and the buildings on his ranch would be protected during emergencies, Stashak had a 20-kW propane generator installed. It quickly proved its value, as it was installed mere days before the Glass Fire swept through and destroyed much of Stashak’s ranch.
“We relied heavily on that generator and were so happy to have it there,” Stashak said. “We were able to save the main barn, our home and one of the other homes on the ranch during the fire. We fought the fire from the rooftop with the power supplied to the well from the generator.”
After helping to fight the fire, Stashak’s family had to evacuate for eight days. However, his generator had more than enough power to keep everything running.
“I had enough propane in the tank during the period when I was evacuated to power our refrigerator, freezer, heating and other appliances. I think that saved me at least $1,200 from not having to replace our food or deal with damaged appliances,” he said.
During power outages, a generator can sometimes allow homeowners to remain at home. This can offset costly hotel bills and restaurant charges, which can easily exceed $300 per day for a family.
“I felt blessed to have that generator,” Stashak said.
Powering support for the community
Wendy Gause, owner of the Russian River Pub in Forestville, Calif., is also no stranger to losing power.
“We’re out in the middle of nowhere. When our area floods very badly, we essentially become an island—the roads close on both sides until the water recedes. We lose power a lot,” she said.
During extended power outages, Gause would attempt to guess when the roads would close and drive around to find a towable generator to provide power to the restaurant.
“I had to fight with others for limited supply of the towable generators,” she said, “and I would have to manually haul one back to the restaurant and figure out how to turn it on.” This was all time spent away from the restaurant and being able to serve customers.
Instead of continuing to rely on temporary backup power, the Russian River Pub installed a 30-kW generator to support the restaurant during extended power outages.
“We use the generator for multiple days at a time,” Gause said, noting that it powers the restaurant’s fryers, heater, stove and walk-in freezer and cooler.
With the generator in place, the Russian River Pub is able to keep its doors open when everyone else around them is without power, providing food, shelter and a safe gathering place for everyone in town when they are stranded due to high flood waters.
“It’s so much peace of mind,” Gause said. “And it allows us to serve our community by being able to stay open and provide food and shelter to people displaced.”
Header image: Getty Images / jemastock
About The Author
FELLER has worked to bring new ideas into the electrical contracting world since 1979. His articles have been published in more than 30 magazines, and he has worked with dozens of utilities, associations, investors and regulators. Reach him at [email protected].