Weathering the blackout

Santa Ysabel residents Arlene Linton and Marcel Osuna are among Bulldog fans at the Ramona High freshman football game during the blackout. Linton’s grandson Tyler is on the team. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
Santa Ysabel residents Arlene Linton and Marcel Osuna are among Bulldog fans at the Ramona High freshman football game during the blackout. Linton’s grandson Tyler is on the team. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

By Maureen Robertson

A massive blackout that left 1.4 million San Diego Gas & Electric customers without power and affected some 5 million people from Mexico to southern Orange County and into Arizona lasted about 10 hours in Ramona—12 in other parts of the county— and sent public agencies into emergency mode.

While many Ramonans were unruffled by the outage that began about 3:40 p.m. last Thursday and continued into the early morning hours of Friday, others scrambled for batteries, ice, water and other necessities, clearing the supermarket shelves of emergency items.

“Have you been to Stater Bros.?” Mike Pierce asked as he and his wife Aron walked into Ramona High School’s Bulldog Stadium to watch the freshman football game.

“They’re out of batteries, bottled water and ice,” said Aron Pierce.

Gasoline pumps and ATM machines didn’t function, cell phone connections were intermittent due to high demand, and concern spread as residents learned how many areas were affected.

A short-circuit initiated by an operator error at Arizona Power Company’s North Gila substation northeast of Yuma, Ariz., triggered the unprecedented outage, officials reported. A 500-kilovolt line from Arizona to California tripped out of service, and the transmission outage cut the flow of imported power into the most southern portion of California, reported the California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO), the California grid operator that has taken the lead in a joint task force investigation of the outage.

In Ramona, emergency crews were on full alert, with firefighters and paramedics responding to medical calls and minor traffic accidents, sheriff and highway patrol officers monitoring traffic and safety, and the Ramona Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) checking on seniors and other frail residents.

In the meantime, many gathered in yards for barbecues with family and friends, student athletes and their fans continued with their games, and Ramona Woman’s Club members held their Summer Soiree with the help of a generator and portable lights.

“It will be something to remember,” said Jill McKenzie, the club’s second vice president.

“Better this than a fire,” Ramona vintner Jennifer Jenkin said at the event.

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Jennifer Jenkin of Pamo Valley Winery leads a wine tasting discussion at the Ramona Woman’s Club Summer Soiree during the unprecedented blackout last Thursday. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“We’re enjoying the game,” said a relaxed Arlene Linton, watching the RHS freshman game in Bulldog Stadium. “We’ll worry about it when we get home.”

“You just break out the barbecue,” said Jeanne Pyeatt.

Don Scott of CERT was in San Diego buying inner tubes for bicycles and was the last customer to have a sale go through the cash register when the power went out.

“A couple minutes after that, I got a text from the chief (Cal Fire Battalion Chief Robert McLaughlin with the Ramona Fire Department) saying there was a major power outage countywide and the CERT team was on alert.”

Headquartered at the Ramona Fire Station off Dye Road, CERT members assisted older residents. One group helped a person needing oxygen and another assisted a family that needed electricity for medical equipment. With batteries operating the equipment dying, CERT lent the family a generator.

Everything went as planned at Ramona Airport, which has “a very reliable backup propane-powered generator,” said Airport Manager Bo Donovan.

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