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Gas leaks, fires and collapsed roofs plague mountain towns after heavy snow


As residents in the San Bernardino Mountains try to dig out their homes after successive storms dumped a historic amount of snow, emergency services are struggling to respond to house fires caused by possible gas leaks.

There have been seven fire calls in the past week, which is not typical for emergency services, said San Bernardino County Fire Department battalion chief Mike McClintock.

Mountains of snow still block roads, so firefighters must use snowmobiles they normally use for backcountry rescues.

According to the San Bernardino County Fire Department, crews had to lug their equipment through the snow and dig to access fire hydrants, wasting precious time responding to the emergencies.

At least two people were injured in a house fire in the community of Blue Jay, about a mile from Lake Arrowhead Village, on Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and Southern California Gas Co. is working with emergency responders to address reports of gas leaks, McClintock said.

“There are a lot of variables and a lot going on with 10 feet of snow being dumped on our homes and communities,” he said. “We’re seeing structural instability, we’re seeing utility issues, downed power lines, trees against power lines, and we had over 70 reports of gas leaks in the area.”

The mountains have seen more structure fires than usual, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsey said at a Friday morning news conference.

“We think these are due to natural gas leaks,” he said. “In the last 48 hours we have had five of these gas fires that our firefighters have to fight. I spoke to one of our incident commanders last night and he said he hadn’t slept in over four days.”

After several reported gas explosions, emergency services are urging residents to clear the snow around their gas meters and fire hydrants.

In addition to the fires, homes and businesses also collapsed under the weight of the heavy snowfall.

Goodwin & Son’s Market in Crestline was red tagged after its roof collapsed. The family business said there is still food, but it is not safe for anyone to enter.

“We would prefer to hand out the food, but are currently waiting for a structural engineer and the mechanic to go up the mountain this morning to meet us,” the store wrote. a Facebook message Thursday.

Aerial images from KNBC-TV Channel 4 showed that most of the building collapsed under the snow, only the outer walls remained standing. Crestline has received more than eight feet of snow in the past week.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe examined the damage at Goodwin’s with firefighters on Thursday.

“We are working closely with the owners to rebuild as quickly as possible,” Rowe wrote a statement on social media. “The Unified Command is working on a location to arrange food and supplies for residents as soon as possible.

Katie Mead, 43, considers herself one of the “lucky ones” in Lake Arrowhead — her street has been plowed at least once and she’s gotten less snow than some neighbors because she lives on the “sunny side” of the lake. said.

During a break in the weather on Sunday, she delivered groceries to a family staying at her Airbnb home, dug out the snow and drove to a plowed main road so they could get home. Before another wave of storms hit Monday night, Mead also picked up a neighbor who had walked miles in the snow to buy groceries.

Her street was plowed up on Sunday night, but about three feet of snow has accumulated since then.

“It feels like they didn’t start soon enough,” she said. “They have been waiting for the snow to build up to the point where our normal plows can’t handle it (and) we have to wait for heavy equipment to arrive. They literally have to move snow shovel load by shovel load and dump it somewhere else. There is so much snow.”

Mead was one of many residents who tuned in to one town hall via live stream hosted by Rowe on Thursday afternoons. County officials assured residents they have been working with nonprofits to create distribution points in communities where food and other supplies are running out, noting that some supermarket parking lots in Big Bear and surrounding areas had been cleared of snow.

However, Mead pointed out in the comments on the video that some people can’t get to those distribution points.

“How is an elderly person supposed to walk even a block to a distribution center in four feet of snow?” she noted.

“Our main problem is they bring in the National Guard and bring supplies up the mountain, but we’re all snowed in,” she said in an interview. “Unless you happen to be near the area where they do distribution, it’s irrelevant.”

Members of the California Guard’s Joint Task Force Rattlesnake, who typically work with wildland fire crews, were sent to Lake Arrowhead this week after Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino and 12 other counties.

An “unprecedented and historic” amount of snow fell in the San Bernardino Mountains last week, said meteorologist Samantha Connelly of the National Weather Service office in San Diego.

Running Springs received 12 feet of snow, Big Bear Lake received 10 feet, and Lake Arrowhead saw just over 9 feet, according to the latest measurements.

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