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No power? Some make do, others buy generators

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Okanogan County PUD lineman work to replace power poles along old Highway 97 north of Brewster.

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Generator owners: be aware

Improperly installed generators can backfeed into the electrical system and energize dead powerlines, putting PUD workers and others at risk.
Anyone using a generator is asked to have it installed by a licensed electrician, and contact the Okanogan County PUD.
Generator owners are also warned by Chelan County Emergency Management that there have been reports of people stealing generators, and are advised to chain them up, and ask for identification from anyone asking to inspect it.

TWISP — A new category of haves and have-nots has emerged in Okanogan County: Those who have generators, and those who don’t.

Last Thursday’s firestorm left thousands of people in the Methow Valley, Pateros and Brewster without electricity. The Okanogan County PUD estimates 7,000 residences and businesses, including 3,600 of their own customers, and 3,400 Okanogan County Electric Co-op members who get power through the PUD’s transmission system.

With some 250 miles of power lines inside the active fire area, the utility has no estimate of when all power will be restored. Dan Boettger, a spokesman for the PUD, said in terms of infrastructure lost, the Carlton Complex fires will rival the 1948 floods.

It’s absolutely staggering,” he said of the work still to be done.

Currently, the PUD is pushing to restore power to Twisp, Winthrop and Pateros by this weekend.

To survive this long-term power outage, many people are buying generators.

Boettger said he’s heard about semi-tractor trailers arriving in the Methow Valley. He said even one incorrectly installed generator could send electricity back into the dead powerlines, posing a risk to not only utility workers, but also firefighters and citizens.

Laurie Losinski, whose husband, John, owns the Do-It Center in Twisp, said they sold the three generators they had in stock soon after the outage. She said they got a special shipment of 16 of them on Saturday, and they sold out within a half an hour. Another shipment of about 30 arrived Tuesday — a small generator for $430 and a larger one for $800 — and by the end of the day, half of them were sold.

We had no idea it was going to be this crazy,” she said. “We’ve had so many power outages before, we thought people were already prepared,” she said.

But those usually come in the wintertime. After three days, when everyone’s freezers thawed out and rumors that power could be out for weeks circulated, generators started appearing everywhere.

Now, along every road and highway in this fire-charred area, in town and out, the constant noise of generator motors fills the void.

Sarah Mowen said she went three or four days without electricity before she decided to spend almost as much as she spends on rent to buy a small generator to make it through this outage.

On Tuesday, her three children — 11-year-old James, Riley, 8, and Julia 4 — were out in her yard in Twisp having a Nerf-gun war as the generator hummed out back.

The town pool is closed, but on Monday she took them all to the river to try to offer them a more normal summer day. She said they’ve been worried, with all the talk of fires and evacuations and people losing houses.

But she couldn’t leave the valley because of her job.

Between the laundry, showers, preparing meals and continuing to work at Jaime’s Place, an assisted living community in Winthrop, it was just too difficult without electricity, she said. So she bought a generator.

Sometimes, it’s a luxury — during a snowstorm when it’s out for a day or two. But you don’t know when this power’s coming back on,” she said. Mowen said she drove up the Loup Loup Highway and saw miles of mangled powerpoles, and powerlines on the ground where poles were completely burned up. “Some people are saying maybe a few more days, but I’m thinking it’s going to be closer to two weeks.”

Mowen said even with a small generator, she can’t take a hot shower. And all of them but Julia have endured a quick cold shower to get clean.

In the last few days, portable toilets have been placed around town, and meals are being served at the church and the community center.

Renda Otis was out raking her yard Tuesday, the doors to her apartment wide open. She said doesn’t have a generator. “It costs too much money,” she said.

So she’s keeping her coolers packed with ice, taking showers at the Cascade Baptist Church, and using solar yard lights to see inside during the evening hours. “And eating peanut butter and jelly. That’s about it,” she said.

She said she’s used her car battery a few times to charge up her grandson’s Nintendo 3DS and everyone else’s phones.

Her mother, Berna Carr, stopped by and mentioned cleaning out her freezer because everything was rotting.

My neighbor’s feeding me,” she said. “She’s a very good neighbor. She brought me over hot scrambled eggs today.”

Otis said around the valley, those with generators are offering their electricity to those without.

We’re all helping each other out,” she said.

Reach K.C. Mehaffey at 509-997-2512 or . Read her blog An Apple a Day or follow her on Twitter at @KCMehaffeyWW.

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