THE VALLEY FIRE STARTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2015 AND BURNED 76,067 ACRES through parts of Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, destroying 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family structures, 66 commercial properties and the Callayomi County Water District’s offices and water treatment plant. What follows are two views of the emergency response, the first from CCWD GM John Hamner, the second from San Francisco PUC Emergency Planning and Security Director Mary Ellen Carroll. A Small Water System Responds LESSONS LEARNED www.ca-nv-awwa.org 29 FIRE RESPONSE By John Hamner The Callayomi County Water District’s offices after the fire. THE CALLAYOMI COUNTY WATER DISTRICT (CCWD) is a California special district that provides drinking water to the town of Middletown, a rural town in southern Lake County. We had a population of 1,323 and 366 active water connections before the Valley Fire broke out on Cobb Mountain on the afternoon of Saturday, September 12, 2015 and caused us to lose approximately 39 percent of our customer base. Unlike many water systems in the state, we are fortunate to have plenty of water from a leased well. We also have a bulk water station where we sell water to water haulers and home-owners outside the district whose wells have gone dry, some as a result of the drought but many because their wells go dry every summer. At 7:30 p.m. on the day the fire started, I was told that there were still more than 500,000 gal-lons of water in our storage tanks to get the fire-fighters through the night. The following morn-ing I was getting ready to evaluate the system when my operator called me. “It’s gone, John. It’s all gone! The office, the treatment plant is gone. The telephone poles are down; the wires are down.” I tried to get to Middletown—if they still had water in the tank, it would not last long—but I was turned away at a California Highway Patrol (CHP) roadblock. The officer was suspicious be-cause I was in my personal vehicle. I was wear-ing my shirt with the company name, and I tried to show him my company credit card but he was focused on the fact that I was not driving a “company rig.” At around 1:00 p.m on Sunday, September 13, my board president phoned me to tell me the storage tanks were empty and Cal Fire needed water to fight the fire. The remaining people in town also needed water to protect their homes and for sanitary purposes. I left immediately, de-termined to get through. My office and all of the buildings around me were smoldering. I checked the portable genera-tor, which was scorched but operable, and drove to the storage tanks, which were fine. I checked the well, which was also fine. Within minutes, my operator and former general manager showed up. Now I had two people who knew the system. My board president, Carlos Ne-grete, and the Tribal Chair Moke Simon also ar-rived. Fortunately, we all had cell phones so we could communicate. We needed to get the storage tanks filled. Our first challenge was to get the power gener-ator to the well site. Our two utility trucks were blocking the generator, and the only keys to the vehicles were in the burned building. The local tow company was unavailable, so we started cruising through the streets looking for some- • Check your insurance policy and make sure that you are not underinsured. Also make sure that you are not listed as a “co-insurer,” which means that you are liable for up to 50 percent of the losses incurred. Be sure everything you want covered is written down. • Own nothing but fireproof file cabinets. The cost is worth it. Keep extra magnetic signs and laminated ID badges. • Develop a written MOU with neighboring water systems for staff, repair parts and equipment. One neighboring water system refused to assist the community with hydrant water for cleanup, which we would have never assumed prior to this event. • Plan for fuel emergency usage. Practice using the generator. Make sure everything works like it’s supposed to. • Have a plan in case you lose company vehicles. • Back up your computers every day and put the backup in the fire safe. • During emergencies, post only facts online. There was a lot of misinformation circulating on Facebook, which only confused the situation. • Educate your board members about their responsibilities, which are primarily setting policy. • Try not to take things personally. Two of our customers blamed us for their house burning down. I had arguments, but people didn’t want to hear them.
SOURCE - Winter 2016
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