The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Richard Lefever
For The Sentinel 

Local firm lends big hand in fires


November 15, 2017


BASE CAMP: Goldendale's Bishop Services were active in helping with the raging northern California fires this past summer, including setting up a base camp facility.

In early October, deadly wildfires swept through the picturesque Sonoma Valley, home of northern California's famous wine county. As damage assessments were developing-200,000 acres burned, 5,700 structures destroyed, and 38 lives lost-Bishop Companies was asked to assist Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in their massive power restoration project. PG&E is California's largest power provider with hundreds of miles of above-ground power lines and many more miles of underground gas lines. Arrangements had already been made by PG&E to bring in an army of utility workers from all over the west coast to help in the power restoration project.

The problem, with 34,000 local residents still under evacuation orders and more than 5000 firefighters in the valley, was that lodging was no longer available to support these crews. It would be Bishop's responsibility to assist other emergency support contactors in setting up a base camp literally the size of Goldendale, overnight, with all the infrastructure to support 3,000 utility workers for the duration of the project.

As Bishop Companies convoy of trucks and equipment approached Santa Rosa, California, thick black smoke was in the air, and the orange glow of fire could still be seen in the mountains. Reality set in quickly as our team entered PG&E's 160 acre staging area in Rohnert Park. On this day, the staging area was a sea of blue utility trucks of all sizes and shapes many pulling trailers with expensive equipment. Only a few days earlier this field was a cow pasture and home for a large dairy herd. Unfortunately for the PG&E crews, the deadly fires had not yet been fully contained and Cal Fire would not allow utility workers into the areas most effected by the horrific fires. Utility crews sat patiently in their trucks unable to work and watched as hundreds of large wood utility poles were being off loaded in base camp. Setting next to the pole project was a large semi-truck with an entire load of new gas meters waiting to be installed.

Our Bishop Services crew needed to help set up this 3,000-person camp, while an army of hungry and tired utility crews sat in their cramped trucks patiently waiting for us to provide them a comfortable place to bed down.


WASH AND WEAR: Goldendale's Bishop Services set up washing facilities for crews fighting the Sonoma Valley fires in California this past summer.

By morning, the base camp infrastructure was complete. Most of the PG&E workers had been assigned beds during the night, in one of the seventy 36 bed mobile sleeper units brought in from the gulf coast. A large volume mobile kitchen unit from Boise, Idaho was in place serving a hot breakfast and distributing lunches. Finishing touches on our temporary city were completed during the day. When base camp was fully operational it was even equipped with several hydration tents, "coffee stands" where coffee and juice flowed freely. No fancy espresso drinks just strong hot coffee.

Bishop Companies contribution to this incident was providing a portion of the 250 shower heads needed for an incident this size, along with storage for potable water and gray water.

This PG&E incident came to an end similar to the way it started. While having a leisurely breakfast in the dining tent with seating for 700, we were given our release papers. Our release was immediate, and we were expected to be packed and off site within 24 hours. As our Bishop trucks left camp the next morning, large black-and-white dairy cows were already returning to their pasture, oblivious that a base camp with hundreds of people had occupied their pasture less than 24 hours earlier.


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