PG&E has announced that they plan on cutting power to certain areas of California throughout this upcoming 2019 wildfire season when conditions are ripe for wildfires. They anticipate power outages to last well over 48 hours in some instances.
Calling all California residents! Have you seen this???
PG&E has stated that “While customers in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, any of PG&E’s more than 5 million electric customers could have their power shut off if their community relies upon a line that passes through a high fire-threat area” (https://www.pge.com/pge_global/common/pdfs/safety/emergency-preparedness/natural-disaster/wildfires/Public-Safety-Power-Shutoff-Fact-Sheet.pdf).
We’re gonna jump right in here, folks. There’s no time to waste.
This post (Part 1) is going to cover things you can do NOW to start preparing.
Part 2 is about generators and fuel.
Part 3 is about things you can do once fire season starts, when power outages become a more likely immediate reality.
Part 4 has things you can do DURING these extended power outages.
For an extra resource, see Essential Items to Purchase to Prepare for Power Outages.
By the way…this info is NOT just for California residents. Anyone who lives in an area where lengthy power outages are a likely outcome of a natural disaster in your area (hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, earthquakes, etc – so pretty much everywhere) would do well to read this and prepare for such circumstances.
**This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Things You Can Do to Start Preparing NOW!
This is NOT something you want to leave until an announcement is made, or until a weather report comes out for the upcoming week. It will be too late for many of these things. I can attest to this from firsthand experience. While my examples are not of life and death, these two instances were definitely wake-up calls for me.
Case #1 – I was living in Alabama when Hurricane Ivan came through. As with most hurricanes, we had a few days’ notice. You should have seen Walmart, y’all! It was UNREAL; almost creepy walking through the aisles. Some aisles were totally normal and fully stocked (like the toys and furniture/bedding). And then other aisles were just plain EMPTY. No joke. The camping section, food, baby necessities, personal hygiene items, flashlights, lanterns, you name it. Gone. It was like you see in the movies. Crazy.
Case # 2 – Last year after the Campfire in Butte County had been going for a few days. We live 2 hours away from Paradise, CA, but the smoke where we live was REALLY BAD. So bad that my kids’ school was canceled. So bad that I walked outside to get the mail and came back in with real pieces of ash in my hair. And not one N-95 mask could be found within 200 miles of us. It was nuts. Even AMAZON was out! I thought I was so smart going to Amazon to order some, but there was a 2-week shipping delay.
If you are looking for some N95 Masks, this 10-pack makes them each about $1.50.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Start preparing NOW.
#1 – LIGHT
I would recommend having a minimum of one flashlight (AND BATTERIES) per person in your family. This is just as important for your family’s psychological well-being as it is for their physical well-being. Even (and especially) for little kids, having a flashlight that they are in control of can be an incredibly calming influence in a time that is likely to cause a high level of anxiety, depending on the person.
I like this variety pack of flashlights because you get 6 flashlights for $14.99, and each flashlight is a different color. This makes it easy to keep track of whose is whose if you have a few people in your family. I also like their small size, making it convenient to keep them in a drawer, next to a bed, etc.
Handheld flashlights are great, but so are headlamps. The headlamp option is nice because it’s a hands-free source of direct light.
This is my favorite pick for headlamps. It’s comfy, waterproof, and as stylish as possible, given what it is. However, this 2-pack looks like a GREAT deal, and the reviews are pretty good. I’m not sure I would love the over-the-head strap, but it says that is removable. It also looks like the batteries that come with it are pretty short-lasting, but that’s an easy fix – just be prepared with spare batteries!
Lanterns definitely have their place in an extended power outage situation. You don’t want to have to hold a flashlight for 5 days straight, or even wear a headlamp. Lanterns are the closest thing you have to a steady light that goes in all directions. My favorite ones are these. They are small, inexpensive, only take 4 AA batteries, and they even have convenient handles on the top to hang them on a hook. They’re also magnetized on the bottom (we store ours on the side of our fridge).
There’s no good place to put batteries in this line-up, because I feel like it should be mentioned after almost every topic. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of batteries. Don’t leave this stuff in the packaging until the power outage occurs. Open them up, check to see what kind of batteries all of these things take, and make sure you have plenty of extras. I always buy our batteries at Costco, and I try to stay ahead of our battery usage so I am not forced to buy them before they go on a coupon (Duracell batteries go on coupons all the time at Costco).
Candles and Matches/Lighters
This is a cheaper way to get the lantern effect. However, if you go with this option, be EXTREMELY careful having open flames in your home. I prefer battery-powered lanterns because they’re the safest option.
#2 – Power for Devices
If you don’t have one of these external chargers, order one (or 2) ASAP. These are game changers. I bought one a couple years ago when we had season passes to Six Flags and my phone was always dead by the end of the day, being without a charger and using it to take a million pictures and videos.
Imagine the value of this in a 5-day extended blackout! Charge your phones, iPads, tablets, Airpods, etc. Obviously one of these is not going to last 5 days charging multiple devices, so plan on using the charge wisely, or buy a couple of these to double the amount of charge you can go into the blackout with.
#3 – Battery Backups
Make sure the following things in your home have batteries installed for the built-in battery backups. Check to see what types of batteries each thing uses, and have replacement batteries on hand.
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Smoke alarms – see this post for more info on maintenance for smoke alarms
- Home security systems
#4 – Communication
Did you know that corded phones still work, even when the power is out?? Cordless phones won’t work though, since the base of a cordless is powered through an outlet. If you pay for a landline, you will still have access to make phone calls if you have a corded phone. If you’re curious as to how this works, this short article from How Stuff Works explains it 🙂
Helpful tip: If you do not pay for a phone service, find a neighbor who does, and ask if they would mind if you plugged into their phone line during possible lengthy blackouts. You could even offer to buy them a corded phone (because seriously, who has one anymore?!) in exchange for you borrowing their connection.
Hard Copy of Phone Numbers / Addresses
Make a list of important phone numbers (including emergency phone numbers) and addresses and WRITE THEM DOWN. You will not have access to your cell phone if you have run out of power to charge it, and if you’re like me, the only phone number you know by heart anymore is your own. Get this list made and ready to use!
If you want updates on current conditions, you’ll want a radio of some sort. We have this crank flashlight/radio and we are happy with it. The radio works, the flashlight works, it has a battery, solar, AND a crank-powered option. It also has a USB port to charge electronics. We have not tested the solar function but have tested everything else and it all works. This is certainly not necessarily THE ONE I would recommend; there are countless options of flashlights, radios, chargers, etc. This one is 8 years old, so I’m sure there are better ones out there now…
One thing to keep in mind is that while a crank option sounds appealing since it never expires (like batteries do), many products require quite a bit of crank for very little power. So while it is a nice backup option, batteries are a lot more convenient and produce immediate power!
#5 – Food Preservation
Fridge / Freezer Thermometers
This is covered more in depth in Part 4, which is all about what you can be doing during fire season, but right now you can get a thermometer inside your fridge and your freezer, so you know what temperature your food is at when power is restored. If the temperature inside your fridge has been 40 degrees or above for over 2 hours, you should throw out your food.
I like this one because it comes with 2 sensors (one for your fridge and one for your freezer), and then a display that you keep OUTSIDE of your fridge/freezer. That way you can see the temperature inside your fridge/freezer without having to open the door. This is HUGE in stretching your food through a power outage because you aren’t letting the cold air out just to open the door to check the temperature.
Be sure to get one for each fridge and freezer that you own. Don’t forget the ones in the garage!
Again, I’ll cover this later in the series, but for now, make sure you have a good cooler. This could be key in saving the food that is in your fridge and freezer. If you have a cooler to hold the foods you will use in the first several hours of the power outage, you can leave your fridge and freezer closed for longer, which will drastically increase the likelihood of your food coming out of the power outage unspoiled.
As with anything in this world, the more you spend, the better quality of product you get (usually). If you’ve had your eye on a top-of-the-line cooler, now you have a legit reason to splurge. And with Father’s Day coming up, you could take care of a Father’s Day present while also getting prepared for this upcoming fire season…
The first time I saw a Yeti cooler I was out shopping at a sporting goods store, and I think I made an audible gasp. What kind of crazy person would spend $400 on a cooler?! Ridiculous! After doing my research, I am more and more convinced that it’s not as ridiculous as I once thought. The coolers we own keep ice cold for 2-3 days. A Yeti keeps ice cold for 10 days. And then there are many others in between.
A few reasons for Yeti’s superiority are their secure latches, their air tight gaskets, and their metal construction, combining to be the top-rated coolers on the market.
Oh, and this 4-lb ice pack (affiliate link) is pretty amazing too ($29.99 whether on Amazon or YETI.com). It literally stays frozen for a few days, when inside a Yeti cooler. It’s huge, it’s awesome, and it’s worth every penny. My husband takes it in his work cooler every day. It has been a great purchase.
Talk to your doctor about a plan for refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures, so you have this knowledge before you need it.
#6 – Stock up on Consumables
Remember my experience I shared at the beginning of this post, with entire aisles of Walmart being empty? Stock up on things you use on a daily basis NOW, so you don’t have to compete with everyone else who is freaking out as soon as PG&E issues their first warning.
One thing that is specific to wildfires is N95 Masks. From PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, order these NOW. This 10-pack makes them each about $1.50.
Here is a list of some common things you will want to be prepared with:
- N-95 Masks (see links above)
- Toilet paper
- Feminine hygiene items
- Paper towels
- Hand soap
- Household cleaners (Clorox Wipes)
- Medicine (Infant, Children, and Adult)
- First aid supplies
- Paper and plastic dinnerware, so you don’t have to do dishes
- Don’t forget a manual can opener (this is my favorite one) if yours is electric!
Here is a list of ideas for meals that require little or no heat and would be a good idea to stock up on now (remember, don’t be too incredibly scared of refrigerated items, as long as you are open to the idea of keeping a cooler filled with the items you plan on using, once the power outage starts):
- Spaghettios with Meatballs
- Cup O’ Noodles
- Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
- Tuna Sandwiches
- Deli Sandwiches
- Hamburgers and Hot Dogs – BBQ
#7 – Ways to Cook Food
If you have a gas stove, you will still be able to light it and use it as normal (you will need a lighter or a match to get it started, but that’s it). I would recommend using a long-handled lighter.
- Light the lighter and hold it close to where the normal flame comes out of the burner you are wanting to light.
- Turn the knob to release gas, just as if you were using the stove normally.
- The gas should light from the lighter, and you now have lit, fully-functioning stovetop.
If you have an electric stove, you will want an alternative way to cook food (or even just heat up water to add to a Cup O’ Noodle).
BBQ / Open Flame
You can use your BBQ for cooking, but you won’t want to put your normal kitchen pots and pans on a BBQ. It will turn them black forever (speaking from experience).
- A cast iron pan is a good option if you plan on cooking on a BBQ or open flame. This is my favorite option for cast iron because it comes with a cast iron dutch oven and skillet that can also convert to a lid. I love the versatility of this set, because you are only paying for 2 pieces (which makes it easier to store as well) but you’re getting a variety of pieces.
- If you plan on using your BBQ, it is a great idea to buy an extra propane tank (filled with propane). Home improvement stores like Home Depot, Lowes, and even many gas stations sell these.
Camping Stove (Butane or Propane)
If you already have a camping stove in your stash, this is a great backup plan for cooking your food. Be sure you have plenty of fuel on hand!
This is the camping stove we got. It’s very reasonably priced and easy to use. However, I was not able to order the butane (fuel canisters) on Amazon because they wouldn’t deliver it to my address. So we just got our fuel at a physical store. Note: you should not use a butane stove indoors. The fumes can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Always use these outside!
Alternative Cooking Indoors: Folding Camping Stove with Canned Heat
If you don’t want to have to go outside and use your BBQ or fire pit to heat up food, canned heat is great because you can use it indoors. You can purchase a foldable stove for $10, and stick the canned heat underneath. This is definitely not a powerful cooking method, and isn’t ideal for cooking foods. But if you are prepared with food that just needs to be heated up (like a can of soup) or that just requires boiling water, this does the trick!
#8 – Cash
If power is out, so are credit card machines. Having a decent amount of cash on hand can prove incredibly useful in periods of extended power outages.
#9 – Entertainment
Think through some things you will want to do to keep busy while the power is out, especially if you have little kids. And be sure to think it ALL the way through.
For example, if you are accustomed to being able to run over to your computer and print coloring pages your kids are asking for that you search out on google, you won’t be able to do that during a power outage.
If you are the type of person who likes to scour Pinterest for ideas of things to do with your kids, do this ahead of time. You won’t have access to your computer, and you won’t want to use up precious battery life on your phone to search for ideas on Pinterest. Start that process now, before fire season begins.
If you usually have a family movie night every weekend, you’ll want to have an alternative family activity night (that does not require electricity) planned and ready to execute.
#10 – Update Your Contact Info with PG&E
PG&E will attempt to alert customers of potential power outages via texts, emails, and phone calls. Be sure they have your correct contact information so you can receive alerts. Any amount of warning is better than none, so double check your contact information HERE!
Part 1 Recap / Checklist:
- External Charger(s)
- Battery backups
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Smoke alarms
- Home security systems
- Corded phone
- Make a written list of important phone numbers and addresses
- Fridge / Freezer thermometers – this one works well and doesn’t have batteries that will run out!
- Cooler – top of the line vs decent with a 4-lb ice pack
- Stock up on consumables / easy to prepare food
- Decide on cooking method
- BBQ / open flame (get extra propane, cast iron pots/pans)
- Update contact info with PG&E
That’s all for this week. Work through these 10 things and then move on to Part 2 to decide if purchasing a generator is right for you! ?
After that, you can move on to Part 3, which covers things you should be doing during fire season continuously, to be ready when a power outage is announced.
Share this article with anyone you know in California!!
Also, be sure to check out the 72-Hour Emergency Kit Series for Families.