LAKE ARROWHEAD (Calif.) A winter wonderland just before spring blasted most of the United States in these past weeks, from the Nor’easter to the northeast to a rare snowstorm in southern California.
Some are still trapped in the San Bernardino Mountains where people are used to snowstorms and not wildfires . Others are left without homes for three weeks after snow fell nearly 10 feet on their homes, businesses, and roads. At least 13 people were killed. Now, it’s a slushy mess with slow melting snow.
The area saw snowfall of up to six feet in the March Miracle 1991.
“We don’t get blizzard warnings here. Eric Sherwin, public information officer at the San Bernardino Fire Department, said that blizzard warnings are not something that happens often.
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The largest county in America, San Bernardino County, covers more than 20,000 feet. It has not been subject to a warning for decades.
“This storm was very special. Sherwin stated that we are seeing record snowfalls in many communities. This will cause life to come to a complete halt.
Big Bear Valley is located 15 miles east from the worst-hit communities by this year’s storm. In January 2010, residents were covered in snow for five feet. The area was covered in snow from the winter’s first stormsin Nov 2009 to March 2010. It received almost nine and a quarter feet. Mountain communities in San Bernardino National Forest had the same amount of snow for days.
One Crestline, California woman and her husband woke to find a wall of white around their home.
“Our decks had two gazebos that were just crushed to pieces on top of all our patio furniture. A fire ring and other things took everything out. This sound really got us up. It brought me up. I thought, “Oh my gosh, what’s next?” Paige Renfro said. “Our roof was at least four feet high, and it is large with lots of roof space.
A week ago, she couldn’t even view the house that was across the street from hers.
For 38 years, she and her husband lived in Crestline in California. They also had their “treetops” in the San Bernardino Mountains. Although their home is on a steep slope, it was not damaged.
Paige stated that Renfro residents were able to become a “command center” by providing a generator, food, and even their snowplow.
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Renfro stated that Renfro had found a couple of young girls who live next door and could not get their pets out. Renfro added that they put a sign in their windows that said “Help us trapped”. The problem was that we couldn’t see it because the drifts were higher. Finally, they found the sign while digging. My husband saw it and pulled them out.
The storm affected a 52-mile stretch from end to end. San Bernardino County Fire Department received more than 1,800 calls.
The largest regional fleet, consisting of eight snow cats with fire gear, is maintained by the team. The snow cats were the only vehicle that was used in the worst of the icy roads, despite the “complete loss” of road structures.
“Because these, we didn’t have one person call 911 that we couldn’t access. Sherwin stated that this was due in large part to the snow cats.
As the snow began to melt, they returned to their traditional fire engines and ambulances. They used ATVs on ground and fireboats on lakes in the days that followed the storm.
Officials are still trying to assess the damage. Residents are now responsible for rebuilding their homes and digging out submerged vehicles. Carports, sheds and garages were most affected by the snow’s weight.
Michael Rachau hails originally from Crestline, but he currently resides in Topanga Beach. He suffered a broken rib while visiting and is now riding to recover at the house of a friend.
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“We’re snowed-in, you know, weeks later.” Rachau stated that he hasn’t seen so much snow since he lived here.
After the snow damage, Goodwin’s, the only grocery store serving Lake Arrowhead and Crestline, remains closed. It has been open since 1946.
Renfro stated, “It’s only five minutes until I can go and get bread or milk. And that’s going to be a long time,” Renfro added. “They (the owners), have a positive attitude towards it, so it made it feel better to hear their positive attitude. They aren’t giving up. They are going to rebuild. We need a grocery shop up there.”
The nearest Walmart is approximately 17 miles away. It’s also inaccessible during severe weather.
The county was able to clear most of its state and county roads with the help of multiple agencies.
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Some people live in remote areas of the mountains, such as the Renfros. They live on private roads, which the county isn’t responsible for plowing. Power companies won’t be able to reach them if they aren’t plowed. Nine days passed before their neighbors got power.
She said that the roads below were a network in darkness. “They couldn’t get out and had no power so it was dark, cold and difficult to communicate.”
She likens it to Titanic.
“After rowboats rode out (they) waited until the ship sink and then came in to rescue people. Renfro stated that they looked around and said, “We waited too much.” “And I believe it because 13 people died up here.”
She believes officials should step in because the roads are private but paved by her husband, who paid out of their own pockets for the area.
“I’m not down with the county in any way.” Renfro stated that he believed they had followed the protocol. It is essential to find a safe path. This should be more important than any protocols the county or anyone else have in place during a disaster. This should be the main thing. It was, and I am certain it was. But I believe that few people didn’t feel the same way.
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She said she would like to see an amend to the way that private roads are ploughed in the event of a natural catastrophe.
Renfro stated that they must get people to access all roads, whether state or private. “If there is another disaster, I don’t want 13 people dying because of it.”
According to the fire department, it approached the snowstorm in a similar way to how it approaches wildfires that exhaust all resources.
In response to the snowfall this year, they created a prescription delivery program. All local pharmacies took part, and the fire department assisted in delivering to those who were trapped. Food and firewood distributions were also organized.
Sherwin, a firefighter, stated that “the county had all apparatus and personnel available to it assigned and committed for this incident.”
Schools were reopened and life was nearly normal at Lake Arrowhead Village, the main shopping center and dining area, on Thursday, 20 days after the February 24th blizzard.
The snowplowing continues for the Renfro’s who continue to clear their private roads using a snowcat that they’ve had multiple times to fix.
“Everybody is equal up here on the mountain. Renfro stated that there are lives on all roads, regardless of whether they are deemed counties.
Next comes insurance claims and damage assessment.
Sherwin, a fire department spokesperson, said that they look at communities that are constantly under wildfire threat and set significant premiums for fire insurance. “Then it’s a winterstorm that comes and takes homes. That was a very difficult pill to swallow.