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She lost her home in a wildfire. The California power shutdowns are making her relive that trauma

Two years ago, Barbara Nichols lost her home when the Tubbs Fire tore through her Santa Rosa, California, neighborhood, Coffey Park.

“There are times when it still overwhelms me,” she said. “It all comes rushing back. … We’re dealing with the aftermath every single day.”

Those memories came back this week, when, in the middle of a hectic move, Nichols checked the Pacific Gas & Electric website and found out that she would lose power. The utility company said it would cut electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers in an effort to prevent wildfires as high winds swept through parts of the state.

Suddenly, Nichols had to empty her refrigerator, pack the food in ice chests, and then take it a half-hour away to store it in a freezer that her cousin found.

And then, after scrambling, she didn’t even lose power.

“I just don’t think that there was good communication,” Nichols said of the power outages. “I understand why PG&E felt the need to do it, but it’s pretty big and it’s affected a lot of people and better communication would have helped people be less frustrated by it.”

PG&E has been holding press conferences and issuing periodic news releases. Residents are able to check whether they’ll be impacted by the outages using a map on PG&E’s website, which the utility company says is updated every 15 minutes.

“We apologize for the frustrations this may have caused many of our customers and we are working to fortify future online resources for future (Public Safety Power Shutoff) events,” said Paul Doherty, a PG&E spokesman, attributing some of the issues to the “unprecedented traffic” the website experienced.

The announcement that residents would lose power came around the anniversary of the Tubbs Fire. For Nichols, the sudden disruption to daily life brought by the looming power shutdown made the trauma feel fresh again.

On Thursday, she stood in front of the construction site where her house used to be, and where she’s still trying to rebuild. Many of her neighbors have managed to rebuild. But she’s hit multiple delays. So far, her home is little more than a foundation.

Shocking pictures of the neighborhood after the Tubbs Fire showed an ashen, barren community, where only the chimneys were left standing.

On Wednesday night, some of the people in the neighborhood got together, Nichols said, “and that’s all everyone was talking about.”

“This is eerily like it was two years ago,” she said, “when our whole neighborhood burned up.”