Santa Nella residents lack power after blaze

Mobile home park needs damaged panels replaced

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 25, 2013 

— Residents at a mobile home community are wondering what will need to be done to restore their electric service after a fire wiped it out last week.

An abandoned unit in the 33-trailer mobile home park caught fire Aug. 12. That fire also damaged a critical power pole and transformer, as well as the panels residents needed for electric service.

"The Red Cross put people up for a couple days, but we've been living in the trailer. It's about 90 degrees outside and 110 inside," said Diana Martinez, one of several residents who are living without a permanent hookup to Pacific Gas & Electric services.

The streets within the mobile home park have extension cords running from one side to the other as residents share generators in the daytime. They are turned off at night because residents fear leaving them on after dark would mean a $40 daily bill that they cannot afford.

"It ain't been home," said Cheryl Oropeza. "It's like living on everybody else's time. Both my husband and I are disabled and it puts us in a bad place. I need my coolness in the house."

Oropeza said she and her husband, who's an Army veteran, had to throw away their food.

Amanda Pasillas said her child's school is pushing healthy items to eat such as yogurt, but she had to pack her daughter's lunch with Doritos because perishables won't keep. Pasillas said school officials have told her they understand the situation.

Pasillas also said looting has occurred at the mobile home park and Merced County Sheriff's deputies have suggested private security be hired.

Martinez said PG&E has told residents it can replace the power pole and transformer destroyed in the fire (which was done Tuesday), but the property owners are responsible for purchasing and installing the panels needed to hook up to the utility company's service.

Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman, explained the issue.

"It's like a single family home," she said. "PG&E provides the meter. Whatever is needed beyond the meter is the responsibility of the individual property owner."

Panels are expensive

"We certainly understand these customers have been without working power for a long time. We are ready to restore working power as soon as the repairs are made," Liebelt added.

Martinez said she's been told the panels, necessary inspections and installation will cost between $5,000 and $10,000. The landlords would be responsible for paying it, but out of the 33 trailers affected, only nine landlords have agreed to come together to purchase panels, Martinez said.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said representatives from the county's public health and human services departments have been checking on residents to determine their needs.

He said no solution to the issue has been reached but the county is considering labeling the mobile home park as a disaster area so the state can pay for the panels.

Martinez and other residents said they want to know why the county cannot pay for emergency generators until a permanent solution is reached by the landlords.

O'Banion said he's reluctant to do that.

"My problem is expending county dollars for the benefit of private individuals," O'Banion said.

However, he said, the county is looking at all options. O'Banion said the county is pursuing its own estimates on what panels will cost.

Martinez said she hopes that the absentee landlords get involved in trying to solve the problem.

Residents of the trailer park are also hoping the public is willing to help. Martinez said residents are in the process of setting up a bank fund to collect donations toward purchasing the panels.

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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