As flames from the devastating Bond Fire approached Williams Canyon late Dec. 2, some residents of the rural community were faced with a troubling dilemma: They couldn’t call for help.
Edison had previously shut off power to the Silverado Canyon area as 50 mph Santa Ana winds hammered the region and threatened to blow power lines into trees. The move put landlines out of service in an area where there’s no cellular service.
“The problem with the power being out is no phones work. No one could call 911,” Dane Dunn, whose brother and mother live in Williams Canyon, told The Epoch Times.
“One of the neighbors, luckily, woke my mom. She grabbed whatever she could; [the neighbor] went on to wake up the other neighbors, to get the horses out. They drove out of the canyon—pulling the horse trailers—through flames to get out.”
Dunn’s mother’s home sustained minimal damage, but other structures on her property were destroyed. The home of his brother Morgan Dunn, who lives next to their mom, was destroyed.
Edison spokesperson David Song said the power outage shouldn’t have affected phone landlines unless they operated through WiFi. Traditional landlines, he said, should have functioned during the blackout.
He encouraged residents to have other methods of communication—such as two-way radios—on standby in the event of an emergency or service interruption.
“Your power could go out for a number of factors, so it’s important our customers are prepared on a personal level to make sure they keep their families safe,” Song told The Epoch Times. “We’ll continue to do the same thing on a macro-level.”
He said Edison is willing to work with phone carriers to address communications concerns in rural areas going forward.
“We do work with all agencies, and we try to work with any utility that has questions or concerns that wants to coordinate with us,” Song said. “We want to make sure we coordinate with all critical, essential services.”
Communication troubles are hardly the only trouble Williams Canyon residents are facing.
Morgan Dunn’s 3 1/2-acre property—which included a main house and smaller guest house—was worth about $1.5 million, by his estimates.
His policy will cover up to $450,000 for the structure. He said inflated construction costs will make it difficult to rebuild with such a budget.
He lost $40,000 in cash he had saved up and stored away in the house to buy a condo in Mexico. He’s been struggling already this year with his tie business hurting amid the pandemic.
In the meantime, his mother’s insurance won’t cover any of the damage to her property; her policy covers her home, but not the other structures on her land. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help with the family’s expenses.
Despite the setback, Morgan Dunn said he’s trying to look on the bright side.
“I’m trying to keep a positive outlook and look at it as an opportunity rather than a setback,” he said. “I had a lot of stuff in the garage and attic that I’ve been meaning to go through. Now I don’t have to do that anymore. You can always look at the scraps of positivity.”
He added that he considers himself more fortunate than some of his neighbors.
“I’m sure a lot of my neighbors have no fire coverage whatsoever,” he said. “A lot of them couldn’t afford it; some of them were older homes. There’s a lot of people that moved there a while ago, and now they’re retired. My one neighbor who lost all of his outbuildings, with minimal damage to his house, lives off $800 in social security a month and that’s his only income.”
Another GoFundMe account was created to support the Williams Canyon community as a whole.
Although the official cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, it is believed to have been sparked by a faulty generator in Silverado Canyon.
Dane Dunn said the generator wouldn’t have been used if Edison hadn’t cut off the region’s electricity.
“I think Edison should step up,” he said. “Instead of spending money on lawyers from the fires, spend the money to put it in the ground and do it right.”
Edison’s Song said the company is installing covered conductors in high-fire-risk areas. The equipment protects the wires against accidental coverage, and it’s significantly cheaper than burying the lines would be, he said.
For now, he said, Edison will continue to shut power during strong winds when necessary to prevent its lines from sparking wildfires.
“The priority is that, with extreme wind conditions, [we make sure] the utility infrastructure is not an ignition point for fires,” he said. “Wildfire threats are real.”
Orange County communities are also rallying around several other families left homeless by the fire, which destroyed 30 structures and damaged 21 others.
Among the ruins lies Rancho Soñado, the longstanding headquarters for the Orange County Department of Education’s (OCDE) Inside the Outdoors environmental education programs. At least two on-site structures were destroyed, including the home of the program’s caretaker and her family.
A GoFundMe page has been created for the program’s caretaker and operations manager Stephanie Smith, and her family, who are now without a home.
“[The family] lost their home and everything they owned in the fire,” organizer Liz Simons wrote on the GoFundMe page. “While we know they are strong and will recover, right now they need our help getting back on their feet. The financial impact of losing everything that is dear to them is overwhelming.”
No staff members were injured in the blaze, which began Dec. 2 in Silverado Canyon. But most of the animals connected to the programs were killed, said OCDE spokesperson Ian Hanigan.
“Unfortunately, we do not yet have a full accounting of the animal ambassadors that were lost,” Hanigan told The Epoch Times in an email. “The site typically houses snakes, turtles, lizards, parrots, doves, a kestrel, an owl, rats, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rabbits, and insects.”
He said four animals that were inside a field office—two young gopher snakes and two toads—were safely recovered during the weekend.
There is not yet a timeline for rehabbing the site or rebuilding structures. A GoFundMe page has been set up to support the organization.