A staggering 86 members of Vacaville, Calif, Local 1245 found nothing but ash and rubble left of their homes in late November when they were allowed to return to the scene of the Camp Fire, the most catastrophic and deadly fire in the state’s history.
|Local 1245 member and journeyman outside lineman Steve Lange chokes up as he talks about growing up in Paradise and the challenges of restoration, calling it “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do for PG&E.” Photo by John Storey, courtesy of Local 1245.
All of the local’s members and their families survived, but the material losses and emotional toll are incalculable.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do for PG&E, hands down,” said 15-year member Steve Lange, who grew up in the fire-ravaged town of Paradise and is one of hundreds of Local 1245 members working on power restoration.
Although Lange now lives 15 miles west in Chico, he told Local 1245’s Utility Reporter that, “Paradise is where I call home. I went to school here, graduated here, met all my friends here… I see what was my church across the street, gone. I’ve seen the house that I grew up in, gone. I see my elementary school, gone. I see the places where I had my first kiss, where I met my friends, all gone. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say over 90 percent of this place is gone.”
The Camp Fire exploded across Butte County in Northern California the morning of Nov. 8, forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate without warning. It burned more than 150,000 acres, killing at least 86 people and destroying nearly 14,000 structures before it was contained 17 days later.
Brian Clarke, a 10-year member of Local 1245 working in vegetation management at Trees, Inc., had just gotten to the company’s yard when he saw smoke billowing on the horizon and raced toward home.
“The fire was everywhere, things were blowing up all around us,” Clarke told the Utility Reporter. “We got our dog, and a few of our chickens, and one of our cats. We got out with the animals and the clothes on our backs, and that’s it.”
With embers bouncing off his vehicle, he remembers telling his wife by phone, “This might be it.” As he headed toward Chico, “The last thing I saw as we got out was the ‘Welcome to Paradise’ sign burning up in flames.”
Writing about the massive restoration effort, Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell said some of the same members who risked their lives to help people evacuate are now working “from dawn to dusk, and sometimes more, seven days a week.
|The remains of Local 1245 member Brian Clarke’s home in Paradise. He and his family escaped with their pets “and the clothes on our backs and that’s it” he told the local’s newsletter.
“They have worked through weeks of horrible air quality and they have worked through rain,” he said. “Many are living in a temporary camp; all have given up time with their families. Many who have recently joined the effort are thousands of miles away from their families as the holiday season passes by… The jocularity that is a part of everyday life on the crews isn’t seen. The destruction and loss of life and property make for a somber workplace.”
Read more about fire’s toll and restoration at Local1245.com. The local has established a GoFundMe page to help affected its affected members.