An early winter storm struck the Big Valley area Monday afternoon November 7 causing wide spread power outages. First to go was power supplied by Surprise Valley Electric which services areas North of Bieber including Adin and Lookout. About 10 PM, the Bieber and Nubieber area lost electricity.
The unusual storm, while not windy, was a very heavy sticky snow which not only toppled trees and branches into power lines, but succeeded in breaking power lines and utility pole cross members over a wide area. The storm dropped 8 inches of snow by Tuesday morning and utility lines and trees were coated with thick heavy snow. Tree branches all over the area were broken and down.
Both PG and E and Surprise Valley Electric have active programs to trim trees to prevent them from damaging lines, but most of the failures during this storm were caused by the heavy sticky snow actually damaging lines and utility pole cross arms. A PG and E repair crew chief working in Bieber said he had never seen anything like it and had to repair 24 broken cross arms and about 60 spans (wires between poles) on on section of line supplying Bieber. This unusual occurance caused PG and E to continually revise their estimated recovery time as they originally predicted power on by 6 PM Tuesday. Power was restored by 5 PM Wednesday as busy crews who used a snow cat" to get to power lines, continuously discovered more problems.According to PG and E, there was a major outage in the Burney area causing about 2370 customers to lose power due to a 60 KV line to the Burney Substation failing, and unrelated to that event were many lines serving the Big Valley area. About 1600 customers in the Bieber area were affected.
The power failure stopped pumping from wells to the Bieber Water Tower. This has happened before and the water tank has run dry in previous outages, but this time it happened surprisingly fast. Bieber ran out of water at about 10 AM the next morning. Although the volunteer fire department maintains trucks filled with water at the fire station, fire hydrants throughout the town became unusable. Fortunately, there were no fires during the outage but residents were inconvenienced (to say the least) as water to wash, cook and flush toilets became unavailable. The water usage during the night was unusually high during the night, perhaps caused by people using up their hot water for washing and showering before the hot water cooled off. During the last incident, the tower did not run dry for a couple of days.
Unprepared residents soon found that propane cylinders were sold out in town. The two food markets, Adin Supply in Adin, and Big Valley Market in Bieber remained open because Steve Gagnon, the owner borrowed generators to minimally power the stores. Of course, the ATM's in town did not work.
The water district has no emergency generator and Steve Jackson, manager of the water district spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday making phone calls to PG and E to find out when power would be restored as he needed to flush the town's water lines as soon as pumping started. It was 6PM Wednesday when he opened the first hydrant after checking if the chlorination at the pump under the water tower was working properly.
It was expected that crud would accumulate in water mains (as it did) this dirty water was probably not dangerous. It is a standard safety precaution to advise residents that contamination might occur and Bieber residents were notified that the Health Department advises that water should not be used for cooking or drinking until health tests are performed unless it is boiled for at least a minute. Results are expected before Saturday. Schools were notified not to allow use of drinking fountains and to use precautions for preparation of school lunches.