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California

She survived the Paradise firestorm. Now, PG&E turned off her power: ‘It’s unconscionable’

COTTONWOOD, CALIF. -- MONDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2018: Lilli Heart escaped the Camp Fire with her cats Kee
Lilli Heart escaped the Camp fire with her cats Keeper and Kinde. She relocated to Cottonwood, Calif., after losing all her belongings in the deadly blaze.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Like millions of other Californians, Lilli Heart lost power early Wednesday morning.

Her lakefront home in Cottonwood, in Shasta County, went dark at 12:30 a.m.

At first, her Facebook posts were upbeat, even cheerful. She’d lost everything in the Camp fire 11 months earlier, so what’s a little darkness to a 73-year-old survivor who fled Paradise and started over?

“Ok power now down glad I just got my bowl of ice cream eating by flashlight,” she wrote and signed off with a heart emoji.

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Eleven or so hours later, she was still mostly holding her own: “The wind is certainly strong today,” she posted to Facebook. “My Hummingbirds are struggling to get to their feeders. They are freaking out. Cold here too. So with no electricity or propane I used what was left to get some hot water out of the tap the last of it to make more nectar for them.”

And another heart.

Millions of Californians could spend days without power as the state’s largest utility continues shutting off electricity in a desperate attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by windblown power lines.

By lunchtime, though, all bets were off. She’d swung by the vet to pick up medication for her ailing rescue cat and his cancerous thyroid. She headed to the market to pick up groceries, knowing the place was cash only and all she had on hand was $15.

She answered her cellphone and let loose on Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and its crippled electrical grid.

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“I’m really mad at them,” Heart fumed. “We’ve had high winds in California for years and they’ve never shut down the power. It’s unconscionable.”

The first power cutoffs, affecting about 513,000 customers, began shortly after midnight in several counties around Sacramento, including Placer and Yuba. Roughly five hours later, the outages had extended to Humboldt County to the north, Marin County to the south and Nevada County to the east, according to a map provided by the utility.

The second phase of the shutoff was expected to begin around noon in areas around Silicon Valley and the East San Francisco Bay, but the utility said those outages would be delayed until later in the day. About 234,000 customers in Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and parts of Mendocino and Calaveras counties are expected to lose power by the evening.

“They’re talking about possibly six days.” Heart lamented. “I have nine orders today. I can’t fill my orders. And that’s just me. Some people are on oxygen. I think the governor needs to step in and do something.”

Heart is a jeweler who works out of her home, crafting pendants and bracelets and other decorative objects out of Swarovski crystals. When the Camp fire swept through Paradise, her home, her tools, her workshop, her materials, all were consumed in the blaze.

She’s now back on her feet, the holidays are approaching, it’s the busiest season for LilliHeartDesigns.com and she’s hamstrung. Her phone’s still working, so she can see when orders come in. But without electricity, she can’t work. No lights, no creation, no business, no money.

PG&E should “bury their lines, fix their lines, take the grid and secure it better,” she said. Anything but turning off the power to 34 counties throughout California, which she sees as a completely cover-your-butt move.

“They caused the fire in Paradise,” Heart said. “Now they’re just so scared because of all the lawsuits they’re just freaking out. It’s a mess.”


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