Thursday, August 02, 2007

Burned off the grid

On Wednesday we had a (rescheduled) piano lesson, so we planned that trip to be our major grocery expedition. We have three intensive weeks of music school coming up and I know from experience that there is no time to shop. I'm also hosting about 35 kids and parents of SelfDesign families attending the Suzuki institute here for a barbeque on Sunday. So to say this was a major grocery shopping trip would be an understatement.

On the way to Nelson we drove past the forest fire south of us. It's about 15 km south, no threat to us, but the smoke and flames have been visible from town, so we were interested to see what the fire was like as we drove south. It was pretty impressive. The sun was an orange disc that would could look directly at through the smoke. The fire was within about 150 metres of the highway in one spot. The photo above is SOTC (straight off the camera, no digital editing) at our place. The yellow-orange cast is on everything and it's really obvious at a casual glance in real life.

Piano went well and we did our grocery shopping and headed for home, with a pit-stop for lunch at a café we like that's closed on our usual Nelson day, and to check out the little archery supply place at Noah's request (he's now eagerly counting his pennies).

When we arrived home the house was dark. We discovered that a small fire 50 km west of us had burned through the sole power supply lines to our region and power was off to our entire region. It seems beyond comprehension that there is only one line supplying our area. Isn't it called a "grid" after all? I mean, doesn't grid imply interconnectedness? Well, apparently we're on a power spur, not the power grid. There are areas to the east, south and west of us that have no electrical supply, in other words, they're off-grid areas without power poles and transmission lines. I knew this but I hadn't thought it through. One line -- gone. Estimates were that depending on the fire conditions, restoring power could take as long as a week or two in a worst-case scenario.

Well, my worst-case scenario involved $400 of rapidly warming groceries, an empty gas tank, a Suzuki institute with 81 students starting next Monday, 12 faculty to provide for, the aforementioned BBQ and a heck of a lot of computer work left to do before the institute starts. Not to mention children and laundry and dishes and cooking and bathing and all those mundane things. One to two weeks???!!!!

Things are never as bad as they seem, though. The big faculty welcome dinner happens to be in the restaurant at a backcountry resort that is off the grid anyway and has their own power-generating system. The dental clinic had a generator they were willing to let my mom hook her photocopier up to in order to churn out the last few hundred pages for the registration packet. Around the 24-hour mark our friends offered us their generator for a couple of hours to re-chill our freezer and refrigerator. I made a solar shower out of garden hoses and found the camp stove and the bulk propane adapter. I managed to send a bulk e-mail out to the institute registrants via the hospital computer system, as they have an emergency generator. And one of the local gas stations had generators running on their pumps and despite long line-ups and a lack of cash, I managed to dredge up enough small bills and coins to purchase a third of a tank of gas, enough to get us through the institute at least. I had just purchased some solar garden lanterns last week, and they screw off their spikes nicely and come indoors at night, providing ample clean-and-green lighting. Our wind-up radio has been terrific at keeping us informed.

The kids played outside, and with each other, and practiced their instruments. Noah and Fiona played numerous games together this morning, totally self-motivated and with great enjoyment of each other's company. Erin and Sophie counted, sorted, folded and labelled the 80-something SVI T-shirts. Kids did chores, read fiction and history, made their own fun and hardly complained at all.

And then, amazingly enough, the power came on late today. They say it's temporary, that there will need to be more significant interruptions for a definitive repair, and likely some brown-outs as well. But life is good. I'm madly trying to get 10 dozen muffins and squares baked for next week before the power goes off again, but since I know people have been wondering (our valley has made the national news on CBC radio today!) I thought I'd post an update.

We have lots of ash drifting down, but the smoke isn't bad and the fires are still far away. And we're so thankful for friends with generators, and our cold deep-freeze.


  1. So glad to hear that you are all well, Miranda. I've been wondering since your last blog entry. It is so nice to live in a small area at times like these, where friends and business owners are so willing to help one another. We experienced a three-day outage a couple of years ago and store owners gladly wrote out IOUs to anyone needing food. The local gas station used a generator to run their pumps for a short time and allowed those without cash (us!) to write cheques. I envy you a day or two without power(and the games and play that go along with it), but I hope that it doesn't end up going out for a longer period of time.

  2. I remember that orange sun and golden glow from a few years back in the Okanagan!
    Maybe it's time to buy your own generator for just such emergencies...

  3. We consider the generator issue every once in a while. The thing is that while power failures are frequent here, we're actually really well set-up for them. We have wood heat, no air conditioning, our own gravity-fed water supply, and so on. We even have emergency internet service at the hospital. We don't need electricity for much. It's only been a big issue this time because of the Suzuki institute. Normally I would not have perishable food like meat in the freezer (we're vegetarians), and normally I do not buy tons of groceries like I did the other day -- this is the first time we've ever hosted a party this big.

    Still, Chuck's colleague is moving in 6 months and we're considering buying his generator when he moves. We'll see.

  4. Wow! Always an adventue, eh! At least it is all working out and what a great story of community pulling together and working together.

  5. Always an adventure, eh! But what a great story of community coming together and working together and making the best of a not so great situation!


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