Day without power in Placer and El Dorado: Frustration, confusion, concern for elderly

The largest intentional blackout in California history, which left more than 500,000 without power after midnight Wednesday, began to take its toll on routines in Placer and El Dorado counties.

Dixie LaRouche, 79, woke up Wednesday extremely worried.

With power out at her Placer County home, she was unable to charge the neurostimulator recently implanted in her back for her neuropathy. She and her husband called 911. A fire department employee suggested they go to the Community Resource Center at Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. They arrived to the tent-like structure, checked in, sat down at one of the tables with power strips, and plugged in.

“This is a godsend for us,” said Ted LaRouche, 85.

It’s an inconvenience though. The couple plans to drive about 5 miles to the resource center again Thursday and every day the power is out. The device needs to be charged every day.

“Its really bad timing,” Dixie LaRouche said after leaving the center, referring to PG&E’s engineered blackout. “I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m outraged it’s going on.”

Others were less successful charging their medical devices at the center.

Ruth Krasner, 68, came to the center hoping she could charge her electric wheelchair. The center did not have enough voltage to charge the 24-volt battery, though, she said.

“There’s probably a lot of people in this same situation,” she said.

Luckily she has a doctor’s appointment Thursday in Roseville, so she plans to arrive early to charge it there, she said.

‘What am I gonna do tonight?’

David Rott of Auburn sat at a table in the tent charging his oxygen device, which he needs to cope with COPD.

The device’s charge only lasts seven hours, though, and the center closes at 8 p.m., he said.

“My big thing is, what am I gonna do tonight?’” said Rott, 65, on Wednesday afternoon. “They didn’t take in to consideration the people who have medical issues.”

Another woman sat at the neighboring table charging her mobile oxygen devices.

Other medical devices can’t be charged ahead of time.

Cecilia Brown, 77, of Auburn, said she didn’t sleep well Tuesday night without her CPAP machine, which needs to be plugged in while it’s being used.

She sat at a table at the resource center charging her phone and chatting with others who were reading or drawing at the white tables with outlets set up in the canvas tent.

By 1 p.m., about 65 people had come to the center, an organizer said.

People chatted with each other about how long they thought the outage would last, and commiserating about the food going bad in their refrigerators.

Small businesses struggling

In Loomis, traffic crept along Taylor Road as the stoplights flashed. Several businesses were closed.

Ken Gowan, owner of Loomis Basin Brewing and LBB Gastropub & Smokehouse in Loomis, watched the outage map online from his Roseville home. He was worried about $2,000 worth of meat cooking in a smoker overnight being ruined.

The second power went off, around 1 a.m., he drove to Loomis to hook up the smoker to a generator, then slept in his truck in the parking lot. The restaurant opened late with a limited menu at 1 p.m., and locals started to trickle in.

“Right now we are usually slammed,” he said.

Gowan cut half the staff for the day. But closing for the day was not an option in his mind.

“We’re a big staple in town so we wanted to be able to supply something,” Gowan said.

Many people in town aren’t able to cook food, including elderly, he said.

“The joke is, as long as you got ice in their glass, you can make people happy,” he said.

If the power is off for more than 24 hours, about $60,000 worth of beer will start to go bad, he said.

“We’ll have to start dumping beer down the drain,” he said.

The hunt for generators

Home Depot locations in Roseville, which was not part of the massive interruption of power, and Placerville sold out of power generators Tuesday night. Priced from $400 to $700, some customers purchased two generators to help run their households and larger properties.

Joan Moore, 84, of Loomis, who’s without power, visited the Roseville store Tuesday desperate to find a generator for her new pond stocked with 1,000 fish. The pond needs power for the bubbler, she said.

“It’s very serious,” Moore said as she hurried out the door to try the next store.

Home Depot managers in Placerville said more were due to arrive at 8 p.m. Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, Roseville customers were outside the store waiting for the doors open, only to learn that a new shipment had not arrived. Employee Steve Scudder said the Roseville store was expecting their shipment Wednesday afternoon or evening.

Jan and Tom Bell of Placer County do have a generator, but since hearing the power may be out for five days, they headed to the store to get more gasoline. Next up, they were going to get more flashlights.

“We don’t know if that rumor is true, but we thought, just in case it is, let’s get stuff,” said Jan, 71.

Treks toward Folsom, Roseville

Some El Dorado County residents made their way down to Folsom, unaffected by the power outage in Sacramento County, to purchase equipment. Lowe’s Home Improvement in Folsom sold out of power generators two days ago, with no word on when they would restock.

Debbie Pebley of Placerville drove to Shingle Springs to buy gas because there were no stations open in her town. She said she saw three places open: Raley’s, Home Depot and a coffee shop. “Everything else is closed. I drove from one end of town to the other,” she said.

She was one of many people who are expressing doubts about the need for PG&E to shut off power to so many people. “They said it was going to be a big wind event. There hasn’t been any wind up there in Placerville so far,” she said.

PG&E, in response, said that it is shutting down power lines in high-wind areas that serve cities and counties elsewhere where winds may not be as fierce.

PG&E Safety shutoffs

Areas experiencing power safety shutoffs in the PG&E service area:
Source: PG&E

Intersection signal lights are out in the blacked-out areas of the foothills, and officials were warning drivers to treat any inoperable signal as a four-way stop intersection. The signal lights on Highway 50 in downtown Placerville, though, were still running, thanks to generator hookups, Caltrans spokesman Steve Nelson said.

On Wednesday morning, affected residents from El Dorado County continued their shopping in Folsom, the nearest city that borders the communities of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.

Starbucks on Bidwell Street and Highway 50 experienced long lines inside and in the drive-through, with many customers arriving from Cameron Park, one of the first areas affected by the outage.

Many Apple Hill farms are open, according to the Apple Hill Growers Association, and are operating on generators. Officials asked that visitors bring cash for the farms that are not operating on generators.

Several El Dorado County government offices were closed to the public Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Carla Hass, but the county animal shelter, Placerville and Georgetown airports, and the Placer County District Attorney’s Office were among the buildings that would remain open as the blackout persisted.

Approximately 150,000 people in Placer County are without power, according to Placer County spokeswoman Wendy Williams.

‘I am not prepared’

Cities like Granite Bay were partially affected by the outage, and the more rural areas of the county along the I-80 corridor west of Emigrant Gap experienced school closures and power shutoffs.

Some residents like Deborah Andreotti-Giles in Loomis were unprepared for the power blackout and was outraged by PG&E’s actions. She tried to get fuel Wednesday morning but found two nearby gas stations closed. She tried to get coffee, but the Starbucks was closed. She was headed to Raley’s to see if it was open.

“I don’t get regular TV, so I didn’t hear anything about this,” she said. “I woke up at midnight last night and everything is shut off. I am not prepared. I am so annoyed. PG&E’s failures is why we are in the mess we are in.

“We pay them a lot of money. We’ve had our prices hiked a lot of times. I don’t feel like it is right. I am very, very upset and annoyed over it.”

Bee photographers Jason Pierce and Daniel Kim contributed to this story.
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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.