"I know a secret…" says Liesl Ramsay, CEO of Leete Generators, a 110-year-old generator company based in Santa Rosa.
"Our beloved Wine Country vineyards—some of them were saved from the devastating fires of October 2017 by backup generators."
Ramsay recalls her family's own harrowing story of evacuating their own home while dispatching emergency generator technicians.
"My generators started talking to me," she recalls, referring to Leete's generators that have remote monitors and send automated email to users when the power goes out. "That night of the fire, while I was driving away from my house for the last time, my inbox started exploding with alerts."
Generator Launch Calistoga
Generator Launch Santa Rosa
Generator Launch Glen Ellen
Generator Launch St. Helena
Generator Launch Napa.
In the moment, Ramsay says she felt like a flight-control coordinator at NASA's Mission Control.
"I was glued to my screen, thinking, Here we go, Houston, we have lift off. I was spellbound as the drama unfolded."
Liftoff: Generator ON
"I half expected a crowd to start gathering around me, cheering for these generators—these unsung heroes in our society. I watched generator stats all night long. Honestly, it kept me distracted as I knew my own house was burning down."
Hours into the fire, the path of destruction was becoming evident…telemetry signals started to be lost.
NO Signal Calistoga
NO Signal Santa Rosa
NO Signal Glen Ellen
NO Signal St. Helena
NO Signal Napa
"I knew what this meant, these generators were now catching on fire," she says "We were all heartbroken. Here we had lost our house and we had to sit here watching this fire gobbling up properties left and right."
Minutes later, the surprise of a lifetime: a few generator remote monitors came back online; these generators were still running.
Signal Recovered Vineyard 144
Signal Recovered Vineyard 190
Signal Recovered Vineyard 248
Ramsay describes the efforts made by her employees. "My generator technicians were running into flame-surrounded wine caves to restart the generators that were becoming exhausted from brown-outs. One technician had to follow a water truck down the road to escape flames."
Most people don't realize that wineries have backup generators so that every season of wine production can be supported in case of a power outage. Support can range from running well pumps for irrigation during growing season, to running machinery during crush, to product temperature control. Rick Ramsay, president of Leete Generators, has been told by many customers that generators are a cheap insurance policy—an entire season of fruit can be ruined by a sustained power outage at the wrong time. Revenue loss can equal millions of dollars.
The pumps that were set up with fire hoses were able to fight the fire of 2017, and without backup generator power, this would have been impossible.
For six straight days, generators ran. Ramsay says, "If this fire hadn't stopped, we were going to have to start thinking about stage two of emergency support, which was refueling generators." But finally, the firestorm started coming to an end.
Power restored, power restored…
Generator cooling down. Fuel level 30%.
"We literally jumped for joy!" she remembers. "I envisioned myself telling the world, Houston, we have touch down! Talking about being able to say with confidence, Mission accomplished!"
Weeks later, Liesl and Rick Ramsay heard stories of vineyard employees leaving their own families and showing up to fight the fire. The mobile hospital clinic, whose backup generator is serviced at Leete, was out at Bodega Bay serving a lot of these families, who ventured out to the coast with respiratory issues. These people had a lot in common with the backup generators, they were unsung heroes as well.
Rick, who typically makes about six site visits each week, was visiting up to 30 sites a week, helping to replace generators that were destroyed in the fire. One winery had to be supported for three months on generator power as their power lines were melted.
A year later, "We are starting to heal from the devastation experienced in the 2017 fire," he says. "Our generator company is very busy these days—and the recent PG&E outages have changed a lot of people's perspectives about backup generators. People realize how much they need electricity to run a business."
Liesl concurs, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Only in the darkness can you see the stars."
// Leete Generators, leetegenerators.com