Residents upset as West Fire cuts wireless communication in Descanso

People lost internet, cell service and TV
Posted at 8:16 AM, Jul 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-13 13:21:07-04

DESCANSO (KGTV): People who live in the bedroom community of Descanso are calling for answers after they lost all forms of communications during the July 6 West Fire in Alpine.

According to Verizon and AT&T, the fire damaged a critical fiber cable that supplies wireless service to the area. Both companies say all service has since been restored.

But people who live in Descanso hope they can do something to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Why can't there be an emergency tower that comes out and parks in backcountry areas?" asks Susan Lancaster, who has lived in Descanso for decades and lost homes to wildfires in 1970 and 2003.

"Once you've gone through the morning after and going to see everything you own in ashes, you get a little clutch in your throat when you hear fire," she says.

Verizon says their crisis response team put up a SPOT (satellite picocell on a trailer) unit at the CalFire base camp in Alpine during the West Fire.

But Descanso residents say it didn't help them.

"I never stopped looking at my phone, and there was nothing. There was no service," says Jennifer Poe. She calls it a matter of life and death because she couldn't get a hold of her quadriplegic brother who lives in Descanso.

"Every couple of hours I'd have to drive around and go check on my dad, go check on my brother," she says. "We're supposed to be staying home, hunkering down. Instead, we're all driving around trying to find out what's going on."

People in Descanso have looked into CB or Ham Radios, but say the costs and training needed is too cumbersome. They want the county to buy a portable cell tower that can be put into communities who lose service during fires.

They've even called Supervisor Diane Jacob to see if she can help. Representatives from her office didn't return calls and messages from 10News about the topic.

"This isn't right," says Barbara Wesselink. "It's 2018, and it feels like we've gone backward. With everything that keeps happening with technology, there's got to be a solution."