Public Safety Power Shutoffs spark confusion in Lake Isabella

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KGET) — At Something Sweet Frozen Yogurt, a meltdown could spare burning down.

Last month, local business owner Taylor Goins received a text from Southern California Edison, the utility provider in Lake Isabella.

“I was just really confused, I was like, what’s this about?” said Goins.

The text was a warning. If the conditions were right for a wildfire, SoCal Edison might shutoff local power circuits. PG&E has the same plan in place.

“It was really stressful because we had no idea when or if it was going to happen,” said Goins, who owns one of the only frozen treat shops in the town with a population just under 3500.

In his colorful frozen yogurt shop, there’s little sign of trauma. But in the backroom, where freezers store fresh yogurt and other perishable goods, Goins explains losing power could be “devastating,” even with 12 hours of warning.

“There really wasn’t anything we could do to prepare,” he said.

Should the power go out, Goins said he would lose about $5000 worth of product. He considered a generator, but concluded it wouldn’t sustain his 20 freezers.

Despite the hefty cost, a few hours without power would be worth avoiding a fire.

“As long as there’s the possibility of not starting a fire, then I guess it’s very important,” said Goins, who lived in Lake Isabella during 2016’s destructive Erskine Fire. “But of course it’s going to be stressful to lose five thousand dollars worth of product.”

Down the road, at the Kern River Valley Senior Center, the shutoffs ignite fear, and confusion. Especially when the power never went out.

“I thought it was going to be scheduled, I was expecting my power to go off, which it didn’t,” said Judy Stewart, who has a breathing ailment and has suffered heat stroke bin the past.

“Just being in a house, even with open windows, having no power would affect a lot of people, get them sick,” said Stewart.

In the event of a shutoff, the senior center does have a generator.

SoCal Edison said the Power Shutoffs are an absolute last-resort.

“The desired goal is never to turn off anybody’s power,” said SoCal Edison Spokesperson Robert Villegas.

SoCal Edison has cut power three times before, though never in Kern County. These shutoffs have lasted between six and 30 hours.

Conditions over the last two years – including more vegetation after rainy seasons and increasingly hot temperatures – have made them extra cautious, which is why citizens received the texts alerting them of potential shutoffs this year.

“The last two years I think are the major driver for renewed interest in this program, as well as for establishing the protocols and working through that,” said Villegas.

Villegas said SoCal Edison has people on the ground monitoring temperatures, humidity and winds. They observe each circuit to ensure no one’s power gets cut unnecessarily.

“As part of the effort to combat the new reality that we have, we look at the public safety power shut-off as a measure that we’ll use sort of at the end of the line,” said Villegas.

Both the Erskine Fire and last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 86 civilians, were sparked by electrical wires.

KCFD does not decide whether the power gets turned off. They recommend citizens treat potential shutoffs as an emergency.

“We know these shut-offs could pose quite an impact to our community,” said KCFD Public Information Officer Andrew Freeborn. “We need to take this serious, individuals need to prepare for this just as they would any other type of emergency.”

A shutoff could threaten Stewart’s health, but she would prefer losing power to losing her town to a fire.

“When we compare [shutoffs] to the Erskine fire and how much devastation that caused, yes, just let us prepare for it.”

You must sign up on SoCal Edison or PG&E’s website to receive alerts about when your area is being monitored for a shutoff.

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