Santa Nella residents lack power after blaze

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comAugust 28, 2013 

SANTA NELLA — Residents of a mobile home community are wondering how they will be able to restore their gas and electric service after a fire wiped it out last week.

A 33-trailer mobile home park on Jupiter Street had an abandoned trailer catch fire Aug. 12. The fire also damaged a power pole and transformer as well as the paneling residents needed for electric service.

"The Red Cross put people up for a couple days, but we've been living in the trailer. It's about 90 degrees outside and 110 inside," said Diana Martinez, one of several residents who are living without a permanent hookup to Pacific, Gas & Electric's services.

The streets within the mobile home park have extension cords running from one side to the other as residents share generators in the daytime. They are turned off at night because, at $20 a day, residents fear leaving them on after dark would mean a $40 per day bill that they cannot afford.

"It ain't been home," said Cheryl Oropeza. "It's like living on everybody else's time. Both my husband and I are disabled and it puts us in a bad place. I need my coolness in the house."

Oropeza said she and her husband, who is an Army veteran, had to throw away their food.

Amanda Pasillas said her child's school is pushing healthy eating items such as yogurts but she had to pack her daughter's lunch with Doritos because perishables won't keep. Pasillas said school officials have told her they understand the situation.

Pasillas also said looting has occurred at the mobile home park and sheriff's deputies have suggested private security be hired.

Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman Delray Shelton said he's unaware of any looting.

"For the Santa Nella area, we have been proactive. We did a staffing realignment four months ago that added a third body in the Santa Nella area," Shelton said.

He said residents should contact the Merced County Sheriff's Department if any crime is occurring.

Martinez said PG&E has told residents that they can replace the power pole and transformer destroyed in the fire (which was done Tuesday), but the property owners are responsible for purchasing and installing the paneling needed to hook up to the utility company's service.

Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman, explained the issue.

"It's like a single family home," she said. "PG&E provides the meter. Whatever is needed beyond the meter is the responsibility of the individual property owner.

"We certainly understand these customers have been without working power for a long time. We are ready to restore working power as soon as the repairs are made."

Martinez said she's been told that the panels, necessary inspections and installation will cost between $5,000 and $10,000. The landlords would be responsible for paying it, but out of the 33 trailers affected only nine landlord have agreed to come together to purchase panels, Martinez said.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said representatives from the county's public health and human services departments have been checking on residents to determine their needs. He said no solution has been reached but the county is considering pursuing labeling the mobile home park as a disaster area so the state can pay for the paneling.

Martinez and other residents said they want to know how come the county cannot pay for emergency generators until a permanent solution is reached by the landlords. O'Banion said he's reluctant to do that.

"My problem is expending county dollars for the benefit of private individuals," O'Banion said.

However, he said, the county is looking at all options. O'Banion said the county is pursuing its own estimates on what panels will cost.

Martinez said she hopes that the absentee landlords get involved in trying to solve the problem. Residents of the trailer park are also hoping the public is willing to help. Martinez said residents have set up a bank fund at Wells Fargo in Los Banos to collect donations toward the panels. To make a contribution visit the bank at 461 J St., and ask to make a deposit in the Santa Nella Fire Fund.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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