Sierra County residents and businesses were touched by the genuine concern that PG&E employees demonstrated for the community’s well-being and their commitment to restoring power as quickly and as safely as possible during the long weeks that followed the December snow storm in Northern California.
Residents of the idyllic mountain town, Downieville, California rejoiced on the afternoon of January 8th as a parade of sky blue utility vehicles dispatched from the Sierra - Sacramento Division of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., found their way into the quaint forested communities and townships buried deep in the Sierra snow. An article from the local media, The Mountain Messenger (one of the oldest newspapers in California, est. 1853), reports that at its peak over 1,300 Sierra County residents and PG&E customers were without power–some customers for over 17 days–disrupting home heating, food storage, and business operations across the entire western region of Sierra County. “We spent well over $300 just to keep our generators running,” said resident Hannah Ford. The day that power was finally restored, Ford took a celebratory photo of her residence, snowladden and sparkling with light illuminating from every window in her home. “It’s everything I hoped it would be. #sowarm”
The largest community in Sierra County affected by the storm was Downieville, a town of under 300 settled in the Tahoe National Forest, surrounded by the picturesque gold rush communities of Sierra City, Alleghany, and Goodyear’s Bar. Zipping past the saffron yellow, brilliant turquoise, and soft lavender hues that adorn the Old-West style façade of downtown Downieville–once famous for its goldrich deposits at the confluence of the Yuba and Downie River–the PG&E procession was welcomed by residents and visitors alike who were overwhelmed by the freezing temperatures and relentless snowfall.
“When I get a call that PG&E is coming, I jump out of bed. I don’t care if it's 3:00 AM! Those guys keep my lights on,” said Cassie Koch, manager of Downieville Grocery Store.
The Sierra Division first established a resource center at the Downieville Community Hall for residents affected by the outage, distributing blankets, charging blocks, and hot coffee while welcoming community members to charge electronic devices and connect to the internet. Then, equipped with boom trucks, snowcats, shovels, and snowshoes to traverse the steep, inaccessible mountain terrain, PG&E teams worked around the clock to restore power. Eight helicopters were dispatched that Saturday to expedite the damage assessment in the area. “It was awesome to see these brave people dangling from ropes hundreds of feet in the air,” said Michael Meline, owner of Riverside Mountain Lodge. He, along with others, captured the dangling personnel with cell phone cameras as they looked on in awe.
New transformers were installed; gravel was laid; debris was cleared. The work was rigorous and endless. The Sacramento Bee reports that there were approximately 3,200 documented cases of PG&E equipment damage overall after the storm, taking over 2,200 personnel to clean up the aftermath. Upwards of 50 of those workers found themselves in Sierra County–with dozens staying at local resorts and cabins: Sierra Pines Resort, the Riverside Mountain Lodge, the Carriage House Inn, the Downieville River Inn, & Buttes Resort.
With the arrival of PG&E crews in Sierra County, the townships of Downieville and Sierra City grew exponentially, not just in size, but in community. As a gesture of solidarity and gratitude for the Sierra Division PG&E crews, the community came together to reopen businesses that had shuttered for the long winter months in order to provide the teams with sumptuous, homemade meals. Potluck breakfasts and dinners were organized at La Cocina Del Oro and Sabrina’s at the Forks along Main Street in Downieville and Sierra Pines restocked the resort’s restaurant for PG&E guests in Sierra City. Leaders at the Sierra County Chamber of Commerce even home baked casseroles and made breakfast for the PG&E crew to ensure they could fuel-up for their first morning of work on the lines.
Year-round businesses such as Sierra Hardware, Downieville Grocery, and Two Rivers Café were a lifeline in the swarm of activity that rushed through the sleepy, Lost Sierra town. Sierra County residents and businesses are hopeful that PG&E employees and subcontractors will return with family and friends during the fairer weather and enjoy the small-town kindness and hospitality for a different kind of adventure: mountain biking in the Downieville Classic, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, fly fishing along the the Yuba and Downie Rivers, catching a documentary at the historic Yuba Theater, sipping wine or enjoying the night life at the St Charles Place or Golden West, or enjoying craft beer at Downieville Brewfest, among an array of other recreational and tourist activities.
In recognition of the dedication and hard work of PG&E employees, various Sierra County business members have created special offers for all PG&E staff, including discounted lodging and meal vouchers. Sonya Meline, owner of the Carriage House Inn, says “Our little mountain towns welcome PG&E Sierra Division employees, and their guests, with open arms! I hope they will spend some time to relax, rejuvenate, and bask in the majestic nature of the Sierra County to help them recover from their hard work. They deserve it!”
ABOUT VISIT SIERRA COUNTY
Visit Sierra County (known as the Sierra County Visitors Bureau) coordinates and partners with the various organizations of Sierra County, California to promote the county’s meetings, events, and travel destinations. Their marketing efforts are focused on driving additional funding to our community to directly benefit local residents' quality of life. Visit Sierra County believes in putting residents first, and continually strives to grow resident pride and enhance the image of Sierra County and its communities: Calpine, Downieville, Goodyear’s Bar, Loyalton, Sattley, Sierra City, Sierraville, and many other vibrant and historical townships.
Visit Sierra County is applying for a 501(c) 3 non-profit charitable organization for economic and community development funded by various grassroots initiatives.
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Comments, questions, idea? Reach out to our marketing and events director at Niecea@VisitSierraCounty.com