During a recent blizzard, residents all over the south west corner of Saskatchewan suffered a major power outage when ice, snow and wind caused major damage to electrical infrastructure in the area.
A small number of farms south and east of Big Beaver in the area near the US border and out into the Big Muddy as well as farms west of Lisieux were without power for over 84 hours, 30 hours more than most.
Kevin Holbrook, who farms southeast of Big Beaver went dark at 9:30 a.m. Friday, January 29, was among those residents dealing with the power outage.
According to Holbrook, Bob Marshall who lives in the Big Muddy located a downed power line in the hills near his home.
SaskPower, complete with snowmobiles, came out to fix the line on the morning of Saturday, January 30. Kevin's brother Jeff plowed out a path for the crew to get to the line.
The crew fixed the line and were about to turn on the transformer when they got news that the rest of the area had lost power.
The residents of the towns of Rockglen, Coronach, Willow Bunch, Bengough, Ogema, Fife Lake, Liseiux, Harptree, Minton and surrounding towns joined the Big Beaver residents that had no power.
For residents living in towns in the area, their prime focus was to keep their families warm and to prevent losing their food in their freezers and refrigerators. For ranchers with hundreds of cattle, many carrying calves, they had many more lives to protect.
Glenn Ching whose family lives on a ranch 9 miles east of Lisieux has 500 cattle consisting of purebread Charlois and black angus cattle and a commercial cow herd who are currently calving.
Chings had the use of a generator to heat their home but they were without power to get water to their cattle.
Ching said that they ran vehicles to keep newly born calves warm and they pushed snow into the pens for the cattle to eat to stay hydrated. "The cattle that were out on the pasture were ok, but the ones locked up had no water." he said.
"I think (SaskPower) worked as hard as they could, by only complaint with SaskPower was that they should have been more upfront with us. When we phoned on the Saturday when we went out of power and they told us we would have power back by 3 o'clock that afternoon and 80 some hours later we get power." said Ching.
While moving snow on Tuesday, Ching met up with SaskPower staff who told him where the problem was but that they were unable to get to it because of the snow. Ching immediately offered his help and plowed snow to get the crew to the line. "If they had just asked us, everybody just wanted the power back on. We'll help, we'll do whatever you want."
"It's not SaskPower's fault, it was the rain and the ice on the lines." said Ching
Although many people believe that the reason the poles broke was because of the age of the poles, Ching reported that many of the poles were new poles that were broke. "Some of the poles that I plowed up to that were broke were not old poles. It amazed me. . . the last pole that was still standing with the wire hooked to it, it was bent at a real angle. The weight of the ice on the line was putting a lot of stress on the pole."
For Holbrooks, they were fortunate enough to have generators to run pumps to water their cattle and to keep their home warm.
Adding to the frustration of no power, Big Beaver and Lisieux residents were also without telephone service. "You just feel so isolated." said Ching. Ching was also trying to look after his aging parents that live in Rockglen that were in their home without electricity.
There was a bright moment in a dark week for those in the Big Beaver area when the cellphone tower that residents have been anxiously waiting for, finally powered up on Tuesday, January 26.
Rockglen, Coronach and Big Beaver were in the dark again when SaskPower did some major work during a planned power outage on Thursday, January 28.
Ching is preparing his ranch just in case of any further outages. He has plans to purchase a generator that will run his whole farm. He estimates that the total cost, with the generator and the cost to have the breakerbox switched it could be $10 to $15,000.
"If this is going to be more common, give us a break changing these breaker boxes and stuff," said Ching.
SaskPower's James Butler reported that SaskPower is currently assessing the damage in the area and do not expect any further planned power outages.