We had plenty of advance notice. The local media had been warning us since last weekend. On Thursday evening, Sheriff Larry Jones personally recorded a message and sent it to every residential telephone in the county. The same message was then delivered in Spanish to the same numbers. The message warned of possible wind gusts to 80mph, massive power outages, and widespread property damage. County residents were told to secure their livestock and prepare for the worst. Those in rural areas who depend upon well water (that would be us) were told to have water reserves of 1.5 gallons per person, per day, for three days.
On Thursday we filled up two coolers, a dozen plastic jugs, several pots and pans, one washbowl, and one bathtub with water – remembering that water would be needed to flush the toilets. The boys stacked a few days’ supply of dry firewood on the back porch, re-tied our fruit trees to their stakes (the ties from last year had fallen off or disintegrated), covered the tractor with a tarp, and put all of the outdoor furniture in the garage. At midnight there was no sign of rain and the air was eerily calm, so off to bed I went.
I awoke Friday morning to the howls of ferocious south winds. The light from our digital alarm clock had disappeared. The house smelled of smoke. I jumped out of bed and headed out into the living room. The room was filled with smoke from the woodstove, due to wind gusts blowing smoke back down the smokestack, and into the house through cracks in the pipe. Strangely, the front door had blown WIDE open. There were three or four cups of half-finished hot chocolate on the floor by the stove. The children were nowhere to be seen. I checked their bedrooms: they were gone. What could have happened?
It turns out the kids woke up early due to the winds (they have south walls in their bedrooms), boiled some water on the woodstove, and fixed themselves some hot chocolate. Eventually, they couldn’t take the smoke and went out into the garage to play ping-pong. Ha. And not surprisingly, the last one out didn’t close the door all the way. When the kids came back in, I told the boys to put out the fire with water from the bathtub, as the house was simply uninhabitable when full of smoke. I decided to drive into town – partly to listen to the radio, partly to take a look around. About half of Orland seemed to have electricity, but major sections were completely dark, including two gas stations. I wanted to head home on the backroads, but County Road 200 was entirely blocked off. The road looked like a railroad track due to 21 power poles laying across the pavement. Wow.
Our power returned shortly before 6:00 pm. As my dad works for PG&E, I called him on his cell phone to thank him for making our house a top priority. That elicited quite a chuckle: as of this moment most of Chico is still out of power.
We lost one tree a little larger than the tree pictured below. That’s one tree I hated to lose: the cows always enjoyed its shade in the summertime. And we lost one of the main branches of our oldest olive tree. I guess we’ll save some money on firewood next year.