The Nights the lights went out in Tumbler

Trent Ernst, Editor


It’s been well over two years since the last major unplanned power outage, so Tumbler Ridge was due, and this latest one was a doozy, with the outage lasting close to 40 hours in some areas of town.

The power was knocked out by winds which hit 140 km here in Tumbler Ridge.

The epic windstorm knocked out power all across Northern BC and across Western Canada. At its peak, more than 22,000 customers were without power in this province, with more than 150 different power outages from as far west as Kitwanga.

Nearly every area in the Peace Region suffered power outages, including Chetwynd, Fort St. John, Hudson Hope and Dawson Creek.

Tumbler Ridge has three electrical circuits, two of which feed the town power. The first circuit provides power to the top bench and half of the middle bench, including the downtown core, the light industrial park, and some houses in the Cottonwood area.

The second circuit provides energy to the rest of the middle bench and the lower bench.

After flickering all day, the power on the lower bench and parts of the middle bench, including the Community Centre went out at around 7:30 Tuesday night, while the upper bench circuit remained energized until around 9:00.

Power was returned to the upper bench circuit at 10:30 Wednesday night, a full 12 hours before power returned to the rest of the town.

BC Hydro crews were able to tie the lower bench circuit into the other one as repairs continued into Friday.

BC Hydro restored the electrical system back to its original configuration on Friday afternoon, when the power went out for a few minutes.

Barry Elliot says he’s happy with the way the town dealt with the power outage. “It seems to me that all of the departments did a good job getting together on this.”

Elliott says that it was a late call on Tuesday evening to keep the Community Centre open as a drop in area during the outage. “It was late on Tuesday when we realized that the outage would be longer than we thought. I had to get staffing in place for that.”

The next meeting Elliott and the rest of the town’s Emergency Operations Committee (EOC), was held when they realized the outage would be a lot longer yet. “We Initiated Stage 2 Emergency Operations Centre, which is really just having a place open, staffed, and arrangement made for food and coffee and juice. And of course, we made sure there was contact with the health centre so that people who needed assistance were taken care of. We had discussion with Emergency service providers to make sure everyone was prepared. Most people have gone through this in the past. Clearly the residents were prepared.”

Elliott says the mild temperatures meant that the outage was fairly easy to ride out for most residents of the town. “It was a serious event, and I don’t want to minimize it, but I haven’t heard of any individuals having too much trouble.” Still, he says, “I hope it won’t happen again.”

If it does, says Elliott, the Community Centre will be better prepared. “The Community Centre had minimal lighting and services,” he says. “Towards the end of next week we expect the commissioning of the new generator. Once that’s up, everything will be able to operate. We’ll be able to offer other things. People will be able to go skating, or go to the pool.”

Power was out at both schools, which remained open during the outage. While many teenagers still went to the high school to hang out, a group of enterprising kids turned the end of their street into a hockey arena. Lesli Mackay says “We had this big sheet of ice at the end of the street, and the kids played hockey all day with their skates on. When it got dark, the guy next door, from LaPrairie Crane turned his vehicle around and shone his headlights and gave them toques so they could continue playing.”

Mackay says that it was such a great thing to watch. “They were out there on the road all day. When the sand truck came by he stayed away and gave them that space. Even the sidewalk sander went all the way around so he didn’t get any sand on their area. It was such a nice thing.”

Bob Gammer from BC Hydro says the strong wind caused multiple trees to fall down onto the power lines, knocking out the power and making it more difficult for crews, who had to repair the line in multiple locations. He says a handful of customers were without power on Friday, but was expecting to have services returned before the weekend.

Over on Facebook, many people are celebrating the yeoman’s work done by the town’s businesses. Despite being without power, Shop Easy, KC’s Dollar Store and Tru Hardware all opened for residents who were lacking in supplies. Darryl Krakowka says he openeed Shop Easy because it was the right thing to do. “Of course, the only way we could do it because the staff agreed to it. They agreed to come in and help.” As the Interac system was down, the stores were operating on the honour system: come back and pay us when the town has power.

In addition, the newly opened Duck Stop restaurant recently received a shipment of (mostly perishable) food right before the power went out, so they took and made sandwiches, which they brought to the Community Centre for people to eat.