‘Miserable’ without electricity

Times Staff Writers

Things looked dark Tuesday for Raymond Fitzgerald. And he was powerless to do anything about it.

“I’ve called the Department of Water and Power and they say they’re doing everything they can. But you’d think after three days they’d have the electricity fixed,” said the Los Angeles resident as he checked the ice level in the picnic coolers on his backyard patio.

“I feel like I’m in a Third World country. My wife is doing dishes in a pail. I can’t get the electric gate open to get my car out. We can’t even light too many candles at night because it just adds to the heat in the house.”

The Fitzgeralds were among at least 63,100 Southern California utility customers without power Tuesday as overworked electrical transformers fell victim to the heat wave.

The electricity conked out about 3 p.m. Sunday along Fitzgerald’s side of the 600 block of Keniston Avenue in Mid-City. On Monday, the 53-year-old accountant and his wife, Keri; daughter, Maggie, 9; and son, Grady, 12, tried to cool off at a movie, but the air-conditioned theater was sold out. So that night they invited 10 friends over for a blackout party to eat all of the frozen steak and seafood that had thawed out.


The outages didn’t stop at the county line. Thousands of Orange County residents also were without power Tuesday as the region’s heat wave rolled into its seventh day.

More than 6,000 Southern California Edison customers were without electricity in Irvine, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Yorba Linda, Lake Forest, Cypress, Mission Viejo, La Habra, Orange, Aliso Viejo, Fullerton and Westminster. In some neighborhoods, such as Key West in Aliso Viejo, families had been without power for nearly 24 hours.

“This is absolutely miserable,” said Lisa Ostgaard, whose two-story house lost power at 4 p.m. Monday and was still powerless Tuesday afternoon. “I’m dripping with sweat so much I feel like I have a shower over my head.”

Ostgaard thought she had protected her family against power failures by signing up for Edison’s summer savings plan.

“We were told if there’s electricity problems, they’ll just turn off the air conditioning to conserve power,” she said. “But they never turned off the air conditioning. We just lost everything all at once.”

For the Ostgaards and their five children, the outage hit at the worst possible time: the day before the first day of school. The initial fun of running around in the dark with flashlights and eating ice cream before it melted faded quickly. Getting to sleep was nearly impossible.

Mark Ostgaard and his 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, opted to sleep outside on the deck. The rest of the family sweated it out inside.

The morning routine was interrupted by cries of “sour milk!” as the four school-age children munched cereal.

Lisa Ostgaard vowed not to spend another night in her sweltering home: She and her family will spend the night at her mom’s house in Irvine, which has a pool -- and power.

In Laguna Niguel, about 400 homes were without power, said Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which provides energy to about 200,000 consumers in southern Orange County. Hidalgo said the energy supply was adequate; the outages were caused by 16 transformers that need to be replaced, he said.

Power was expected to be restored by this afternoon.

SDG&E; customers in San Diego and southern Orange counties used 4,636 megawatts of power Monday, a record.

“In our over-100-year history, we’ve never had customers consume so much power,” Hidalgo said.

With many students attending the first day of school today and workers returning to offices after the Labor Day weekend, utility officials expected another record today.

Over the long weekend, more than 80,000 customers lost power at various times, Hidalgo said.

The heat wave “is putting a strain on our equipment and on our system,” he said. “Excessive heat, coupled with high humidity and heavy demand, always equals heat-related outages.”

Throughout the Southland, residents did what they could to cope with the heat and power outages. Down the street from the Fitzgeralds on Keniston Avenue, Shirley Jones, 72, enlisted a friend who owns a restaurant to take some of her perishables to his walk-in freezer. Her grandson, Aaron Arceneau, 18, spent part of the day Tuesday sitting in his car with its air-conditioner running to cool off.

In the South Carthay area of Los Angeles, 65-year-old property investor Steve Friedland lost power about 4 p.m. Monday at his home in the 1100 block of Orlando Avenue. He and his wife, Linda, took their perishable meats to their son’s house in Koreatown and then went to Radio Shack and bought telephones to replace their electrically powered ones.

Once the new phones were plugged in, he called the DWP. “They told me they didn’t know when our electricity would return,” Friedland said. “We’re keeping cool with wet washcloths.”

Neighbor Rhea Wolkowitz, 76, was working to keep her 82-year-old husband, Sam, comfortable. He has congestive heart failure and uses an auxiliary oxygen supply. Meantime, four painters were busy completing the interior repainting of the couple’s home.

“We’re taking everything in stride,” she said, managing a grin. “Maybe we’ve been sniffing too many paint fumes.”

Around the corner on La Jolla Avenue, marketing executive John Wagner, 48, was packing up his three bichon frise dogs to evacuate them to his second home in Palm Springs.

“It’s ridiculous. I’m going to have to drive 113 miles to place where it’s probably 115 degrees to get some relief,” said Wagner, adding that he spent 90 minutes on hold Tuesday morning when he called the DWP, forcing him to recharge his cellphone in his car.

In the Los Feliz area, Tracy McCollum, 42, spent Saturday night in her Hazel Kirk Drive home squirting herself with water from a spray bottle. When the power went out again Sunday afternoon, she headed to a hotel near Burbank airport, figuring it would be protected from an outage because of its location.

Back home Tuesday, McCollum tossed out $250 worth of groceries that had spoiled in her refrigerator. “It makes you feel so vulnerable,” she said of the outage.

DWP administrators estimated that about 29,000 of their customers were without power. They said outages affected about 2% of Los Angeles’ electric users. Ninety-seven repair crews were dispatched, including 15 private firms hired for the heat wave.

Southern California Edison officials said 33,711 of their customers were without service at midday Tuesday -- about half of 1% of their clients.

Times staff writers Duke Helfand and Dave McKibben contributed to this report.