[UPDATED] An Unwanted Anniversary

[UPDATED] An Unwanted Anniversary

Our power is set to go out at 12:30 am, October 9. The site will still run just fine, but I’m not sure about the next time I’ll be able to post. There will definitely be no podcasts this week. Thank you for your patience and understanding.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019 is the two-year anniversary of the Tubbs and Nuns fires that devastated Sonoma County, Napa County and even parts of Mendocino County. They wrought billions of dollars in damage in Santa Rosa alone.

This is an anniversary I’ll acknowledge with considerable discomfort and sadness.

As the fates would have it, high winds and low humidity are forecast to return to Northern California generally and the North Bay in specific on the anniversary. It’s the sort of news that on a scale of 1 to 10 generally results in a pucker factor of 36.


Pacific Gas and Electric is examining the possibility of shutting down the electrical grid Wednesday morning. That’s only the beginning. They may keep it off for as long as five days. People here aren’t pleased, but I’ll take a power outage over a conflagration every day of the week and three times a day on Sunday.

In the event the grid is off more than a day, I have no idea to what degree I’ll be able to keep publishing. My kids will end up on an unexpected holiday and not all cell towers will have power. If we lose power there will definitely be no podcasts.

Stay tuned, or something.

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  1. Scott M.

    On October 9, I was sitting atop decommissioned fire lookout tower on the Sierra Buttes, high above Downieville. From that vantage I could see multiple plumes of smoke — in the Yuba River watershed, in Butte County, and spewing from Napa-Sonoma. It was, at once, awe inspiring and heartbreaking.

    I’m a Northern California native. Born in Redding — burned. Raised in Paradise — burned. Educated in Sonoma and Napa Counties — burned and burned. There lies the genesis of my cycling story and memories from hundreds of epic rides. While I’ve not suffered direct loss from the fires, I have lost many of my favorite places (swimming holes, lakes, single track, roads to nowhere, and three of four childhood homes in Paradise).

    I now live in Sacramento and frequently ride the gold country where houses and towns are comingled with forest, much like they were in Paradise. There are dozens of areas at risk — Auburn, Foresthill, Placerville, Colfax, Sonora, Cool, Georgetown, Pollock Pines, and Grass Valley for starters. These towns, and hundreds villages, make up northern California’s other great cycling region — where cyclists can get lost in Yeti-country — a matrix of one-lane roads, rugged canyons, ridge tops, historical sites, mountain lakes, and deep forests. I fear for its future. I appreciate every opportunity to see it now — before.

    While deferred maintenance and overgrowth have increased the risk, I’m encouraged to see work crews trimming branches that overhang high voltage. I see homeowners creating defensible space. I see PG&E shutting off power when the risk is high. I hope it’s enough. It confounds me when I encounter someone who can’t appreciate the value of reducing this clear and imminent risk.

    I would gladly accept losing power compared with undergoing another natural disaster like Redding or Santa Rosa or Paradise. I submit that power shutoffs during high wind events IS the new normal. Get used to it. Because it could take decades of forest management, equipment maintenance, and legislative mandates to reduce the risk. We didn’t get here in a single year. We can’t get out of this with a few months of tree trimming.

    1. Author

      Well said. Thank you for the rich perspective on NorCal.

      I’m going to lose most of the contents of my fridge in the next few days as power goes off at midnight tonight. It’s a very small price to pay to keep my town from burning. We need to cheer PG&E for this strategy, not bitch.

  2. khal spencer

    I can commiserate a little bit. We had to evacuate Los Alamos in 2011 when the Las Conchas fire brewed up about a dozen miles west of us in June, the windy season.

    It was Sunday and I was on a ride around the Bandelier Loop and expected to climb up into the Jemez that day and turn around either at the caldera or my other typical turn around, the East Fork Trailhead. The Trailhead is directly across NM 4 from where the fire started after a gust blew a power line into untrimmed and bone dry forest. But I never made it to the Jemez as I ran into a bunch from Santa Fe down in White Rock and they thrashed me so badly on the climb to Back Gate that I turned right at the base of the Jemez climb and went home, ate, and took a nap.

    Around two p.m. my wife roused me and commented that the wind must have shifted because smoke from a Sangre de Cristo fire was blowing our way. Looking out the window, I gasped as it was instead a major fire in the Jemez and the wind was blowing a plume of smoke looking like the Hiroshima mushroom cloud right at us. By nightfall, we watched as trees on the ridge to the west of Los Alamos went up like roman candles. The fire had roared all the way across the Jemez that fast. We started packing. Here are some pictures.


    Monday morning brought large chunks of parachuting charcoal fragments onto our deck. It was scary and shortly thereafter, the evacuation orders came. We stayed in a friend’s house in Santa Fe for a week. Fortunately, the fire crews kept the fire out of town this time (unlike the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 which burned several hundred homes).

    My wife was so shaken that she wanted to move out of Los Alamos, which we did two years ago. I miss the place, but I don’t miss taking pictures of all the rooms in my home, never knowing if I would see it again.

    Good luck out there. Like the Conchas fire, a lot could have been avoided if the utility companies had done things right the first time.

    1. Author

      That was an amazing account; I’m so sorry you had to go through that. The photos are disturbing at a visceral level for me. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. David Burkett

    This kind of story is what makes this site essential. Beautiful descriptions of life, cycling life, but life foremost. Thank you Patrick, and those who shared in the comments.

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