When there’s a power outage in a typical residential neighborhood, families lose electricity, but that doesn’t generally affect their water.
In more rural areas like Acton, Agua Dulce and parts of Canyon Country, many rely on well water — and those wells use a powered pump to pressurize the system — which means when they lose power, they lose water.
“Water won’t free flow … you need electricity to power it, so without any electricity, we don’t have water,” said David Lamon, a 10-year resident of Husk Avenue, just off Baker Canyon, who lost his home during the Tick Fire.
“So, if you ever look up on the hill and you see those water tanks and wonder why they put them up on the hill,” he added, “they do that because you don’t need electricity to have water pressure because of the gravity.”
Though all of the power lines near their home were updated this summer with new wires that won’t spark, the Lamons, a family of five, were one of the thousands that lost power for 30 hours during the Public Safety Power Shutoffs, or PSPS, for the Red Flag warnings in early October.
On the day of the Tick Fire, the Lamons figured the power was going to get cut, so they were prepared, with only a few perishables in the house, ice in the freezer and an ice chest on the ready. But even then, they weren’t sure.
“There’s been times where they tell us and then they don’t do it, or they don’t tell us and they do it,” David’s wife, Amy, said.
That morning, the power was once again shut off, so when David and his youngest son, Warner, 11, saw the smoke from the fire coming over the hills, they had no choice but to pack up and leave with no means of protecting their home without water.
At first, he wasn’t too concerned about the house as they frequently clear the brush surrounding their property. “We talk to the firefighters every year, and they always tell us we do a great job … but you never know.”
“We just started gathering some things, and I thought we had plenty of time,” he said. “The second time we came out, I realized flames were coming up and over that hill right there … I could feel the heat and we were getting embers and ash (raining down) … I couldn’t even grab the dogs.”
The family also has pigs, sheep, chicken, ducks and cats, none of which David had time to rescue. “He had the leashes in his hand, but they weren’t right there,” Amy added.
Though the Lamons’ next-door neighbor has a gravity-fed water system and was able to save his house with garden hoses, his sheds, which are located near the Lamons’ property, caught fire. While trying to save the sheds, he realized the check valve for his well had melted, essentially draining his well.
“He noticed on this eave right here, on the very corner, was a golf ball-sized flame,” David said, adding that with no more water, he had no way of putting it out. “It just so happens that he was here right when the fire started … and he had the hoses in his hand.”
“He called us crying that our home was on fire,” Amy said.
“It’s just a perfect storm of events to where our house burnt down,” David added. “It’s just unbelievable to know that that happened … I mean, we’re at just an amazing disadvantage to not have electricity in these areas when an emergency, like fire, comes through.”
The family spent the night watching their home burn on the news, while one video, which showed the inside of their home as it was on fire, stuck out to them.
“One of the firefighters was taking our picture frames off the walls and putting them in our big green waste containers — they filled two of those — so we lost a lot, but they saved a lot,” Amy said.
One neighbor stayed and fought the fire with buckets of water from their swimming pool and shovels, while another dug fire lines with his tractor. Both were able to save their homes, but others weren’t so lucky.
Though all the gates were cut open when firefighters arrived, all the animals stayed on the property for days until the Lamons were allowed back in the evacuation zone.
Both dogs, June and Murphy, were rescued in the days following the fire. A photo of June was posted by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station on social media the day of the fire, and she was taken to the Castaic Animal Care Center for safekeeping while the family worked to find a rental home. Murphy was found hiding in the chicken coop when a rescue came to get the sheep and pigs.
Since the fire, the family has found a home to rent, and come back to the property every day to take care of the animals they couldn’t take with them.
“We have our insurance, and we’re OK,” Amy said. “We’ll have just enough to rebuild.”
The family is working to learn what they can do to prevent this from happening again, such as getting generators, of which they’d need two if they want both water and electricity for the house.
“Our understanding is that Edison wants to do (these PSPS) for the next five to six years,” David said. “We had very little access to information because we had no internet, so we didn’t know that there was a fire until we saw the smoke. That’s my point, in natural disasters, you want to provide electricity for as long as possible, not preemptively shut it off.”
The Lamons are doing everything in their power to raise awareness for this problem.
“If they’re doing this here in California, what’s to stop other power companies across the country when hurricanes and tornadoes are coming from saying, ‘Well we’ll just cut power and save ourselves,’” Amy asked. “All (Edison) kept saying was, ‘You just have to be prepared.’”
“It’s just outrageous, and can’t continue,” David added. “We’re just trying to shed some light on the situation to maybe stop it before it really gets going because it seems like Edison is not the only one that’s responded this way … and there’s no reason for other people to go through similar situations for the coming years.”