Canadian living amid California fires says its like planning for snow storm

A Canadian woman living near California’s Simi Valley says her car was packed Wednesday with emergency supplies as she was prepared to flee if a raging wildfire spread.

Dana Baker, who moved from Edmonton to California in 2017, said from her home she could see smoke billowing from the Simi Valley Brush Fire near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles.

The fire was about 10 to 15 kilometres away, said Baker, who’s an associate professor at California State University Channel Islands.

“I’ve just kept emergency supplies in there if we have to evacuate in the middle of the night,” Baker said, adding that her car was packed with food, water, clothing and fire blankets

The Simi Valley fire was threatening 6,500 homes and more fires have erupted in Southern California as powerful Santa Ana winds sweep the region.

Baker said the area was smoky and smelled like a “campfire.” She has been wearing masks outside and keeping her windows shut.

Her neighbours and friends have banded together to support each other, Baker said.

“It’s parallel in many ways to having severe snowstorms, just sort of a polar opposite. In the same way that you would be prepared when we lived up north for extreme weather, it’s just become a form of extreme weather,” she said in a telephone interview.

A crew of 75 Canadian electrical technicians, mechanics and safety workers, along with their gear, left Tuesday for the northern California city of Vallejo to assist with wildfires.

Aaron Rokstad, the owner of Rokstad Power in Coquitlam, B.C., said his company was contacted by officials in California asking for help on Monday.

Forecasters in the United States say California faces an “extremely critical risk” of further wildfires as winds whip up blazes that have destroyed more than 200 homes and buildings north of Vallejo.

California power provider PG&E has been shutting off electricity for millions of customers in order to reduce the risk of fires sparked by downed wires.

Rokstad said his company was called because it has done contract work for U.S. utilities after other disasters, such as hurricanes, and his crews and trucks clogged up the border crossing for hours as they made the journey.

He said their duties in Vallejo will include rebuilding fire-damaged power lines in what could be round-the-clock shifts of dangerous work.

“Once the areas are deemed safe and the fires are out, we will come in behind and start rebuilding the — I guess for lack of a better word — the burnt down infrastructure, overhead power lines, towers, poles … so they can get these people’s power back on.”

Rokstad said he expects power for some northern California residents could be out for weeks.

PG&E said the power that was shut down Tuesday would affect about 1.5 million people in some 30 counties including the Sierra foothills, wine country and the San Francisco Bay Area.

As many as 200,000 people have been displaced in northern California and about one million people across the state were still without power from a blackout over the weekend.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

California fires

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