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Climate and Environment

Food Distribution Continues In Snowbound Mountain Communities Where They're Still Struggling To Clear Roads

People carry boxes and bags of food down a road cleared of enough snow to let a single car drive through it. Snow is piled on either side many feet high. A sign for Roadhouse Pizza is visible on the left.
People carry donated food home Friday in Crestline on Friday. With many roads still impassible, food distribution continued in mountain communities on Sunday.
(Mario Tama
/
Getty Images)
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Caltrans officials said Sunday morning that while they're making progress clearing highways, they had "no new updates" on escorts up the mountain for residents.

"We continue to keep the road closed for essential goods, emergency personnel, and heavy equipment," Caltrans District 8 explained in social media posts. "Keeping people off our roadways helps our operations continue to move forward."

They said if that changes, they will make the updates immediately via their official Twitter and Facebook accounts.

On Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus cautioned that it could be a week before residents can get out of their homes and down the mountain — an improvement, he said, from earlier calculations of up to two weeks.

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About the mountain communities
  • About 35,000 residents live in the mountain communities above San Bernardino, according to U.S. Census data. Those communities include Crestline, Running Springs, Twin Peaks, Blue Jay, Rimforest, Lake Arrowhead, Skyforest, Cedar Glen and Big Bear.

  • While massive snowfall hit the whole area, some of the smaller communities appear to be struggling more with recovery.

The weather forecast Sunday appears to indicate that the record-setting snow that's got people stuck in their mountain homes could melt. Lake Arrowhead will get up to about 34 degrees at mid-day, but the low temperatures will drop into the upper 20s every night through Wednesday.

Big Bear will get up to 35 degrees Sunday, then progressively warmer through the week. But even when temperatures gett into the 40s and low 50s by Friday, overnight lows will remain below freezing, which means tough conditions for removing snow in the mountains.

Residents are being asked to shelter in place if they have food, water and other necessities. Authorities said anyone with urgent medical needs or concerns about the safety of their home should call 911 or the county's storm response call center at 909-387-3911.

Relief efforts so far

San Bernardino County Sheriff's officials said Saturday some 500 personnel — including California National Guard members — had been assigned "to emergency responses, snow removal and infrastructure improvement."

Department officials also said they'd taken 20 people who requested help off the mountain Friday night. They returned Saturday to help additional people.

"Our Search/Rescue team is activated for door-to-door contacts & our deputies continue to deliver MREs to families needing food," according to a department tweet.

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The status of road clearing

Large amounts of snow cover the roads, with alpine evergreen trees to the sides and tracks through the snow.
Snowfall in Running Springs, shared by a local resident on Friday, March 3, 2023.
(Courtesy Chris Bush)

Caltrans said Saturday that road crews have managed to move 8.2 million cubic yards of snow to date — about 1 million more cubic yards in the last few days.

Residents can check the status of snow removal in their area on a new, interactive county map, which is updated daily. Authorities asked residents to use PVC pipe or another material to mark buried cars parked on public roads so that plows won't hit them.

How much snow is there?

Big Bear City got 82 inches of snow during the recent, week-long series of storms. Its previous record, from 1979, was 58 inches.

Running Springs got a whopping 150 inches of snow over the past week.

At Big Bear Mountain resort they report 204 inches of snowfall so far this season — the most in 20 plus years.

How dramatic that influx of snow has been visible in these NASA images released Monday. These are shots, from space, of Southern California from Feb. 10 and Feb. 26.


An animation shows the massive rise in snowfall over Southern California going from largely brown to big swaths of white.
(Pictures courtesy NASA)

Food distribution on Sunday

The following locations will open at 10 a.m. until supplies last

  • Blue Jay: Arrowhead Library 27235 State Highway 189 (Next to Jensens Market).
  • Crestline: Library - Crestline Branch at 24105 Lake Gregory Drive (next to Goodwins Market).
  • Running Springs: Charles Hoffman Elementary at 2851 Running Springs Road.
  • Wrightwood: Wrightwood Elementary at 1175 Highway 2 (will on Monday to Wrightwood Community Center 1275 Highway 2).

Additional resources available

  • An emergency shelter has been set up at Redlands East Valley High School. Resources are available daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the American Red Cross Southern California is providing meals.
  • Residents can also reach out to a call center at 909-387-3911 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for more information.
  • If you are over the age of 65 and unable to plow your driveway, you can call the Senior Assistance Center at 800-510-2020 for a list of contractors. Other local groups like the Rotary, Lions Club and Kiwanis will provide you with assistance.

Many residents are desperate and frustrated

By the end of last week, many snowbound residents said they were fed up and questioning why more hadn't been done sooner to clear roads and get aid to their communities.

On a hike to get food from the local convenience store, Chris Bush of Running Springs said he was dismayed to find Highway 18 "immaculately plowed" but little work done on the access roads he and his neighbors would need to get out of their homes and to the highway.

"We get to the intersection of the next street and the county plowed for about 75 yards and built a 10-foot wall in the middle of the street," he said. "None of us can get out of our driveways."

He said he and his wife weren't using their gas heater out of concern over leaks, which have been reported by a number of residents in the area.

We have no snowcats coming down or our street. We have no fire department people in our area. We have no plows.
— Chris Bush

Bush said he felt abandoned by local authorities. "We have no snowcats coming down or our street. We have no fire department people in our area. We have no plows," he said.

But the community has come together to help each other, posting offers of supplies and requests for snow removal help on local Facebook pages. "The only people helping us are us," Bush said.

Equipment lacking to respond to new challenges

Officials said they were trying to spread their work on snow removal and resident assistance equally across the affected mountain communities. But proper equipment has been lacking or hard to access.

Munsey said firefighters had responded to five fires in mountain communities between Thursday and Friday believed to have been caused by gas leaks. To get to those fires, firefighters have had to take one of eight snowcats deployed in the area — roads are impassible with regular fire rigs — and dig out fire hydrants. "They're literally showing up with shovels and with hoses," Munsey said.

Local officials have also lacked proper equipment, like snow blowers, for the huge amount of snow covering roads.

"The snow came down and stacked up so quickly that those front-end plows that we're so used to using on a routine basis became ineffective," Munsey said. But more equipment was starting to arrive, he said.

The fire chief said the county needs to be better prepared for the potential of severe weather conditions in the mountains, but so do residents.

"We found out many of our residents were not prepared and that put additional strains on the system," he said.

What to do if you smell gas

Numerous mountain residents have complained of gas smells but it’s unclear whether there’s a common problem or what might be causing it. Brian Haas, a spokesperson for SoCalGas, said there were no systemwide gas outages or interruptions in the area, and that having a residential gas meter buried in snow shouldn’t, in itself, be a safety hazard.

He also said work crews were responding to concerns as quickly as possible, but they are experiencing travel delays getting into mountain communities.

Haas offered a few safety tips:

  • In the majority of instances, your meter being buried in snow does not present a safety hazard, however falling snow and ice could potentially damage your meter. If you do not smell gas, please do not turn off your gas meter.
  • If you can and if it is safe to do so, clear snow away from your meter with a broom or brush — never use a shovel or hard object to remove snow from the meter as this risk damaging the meter.
  • If you believe your gas meter has been damaged or if you smell gas, call the fire department or SoCalGas at 1-800-427-2200 immediately

About the emergency declaration

San Bernardino County residents have been under a state of emergency since Monday evening, as the rush of snow from the winter storm has left some people in mountain communities stranded or even snowed in.

The declaration calls for state and federal support to help clear mountain highways and neighboring streets from snow, as well as to provide any other resources.

    FAQ on snow removal

    FAQ's on Snow Removal
    • Here's some information on the county's snow removal process as provided by the county.

      • Crews begin plowing when there is 2 inches or more of snow on primary roads
      • Primary roads such as Lake Gregory Road, Grass Valley Road, Live Oak Road, Green Valley Lake Road, Maple Lane and Valley of the Falls are plowed first, followed by secondary roads, which connect the local roads to the primary roads, then lastly the local roads, such as the ones you may live on.
      • Cinders are placed on primary roads and in school areas where the California Highway Patrol advises to do so.
      • In case of emergency and if you think local rescue vehicles will come your way, call 911 or the local police immediately. 
    • If your property is damaged during snow removal or cinder spreading operations, it will be in your best interest to obtain as much of the following information as possible:

      1. Note the date of the occurrence, time, address and any other information that you can.
      2. Get a description of the vehicle (blower, blade or bucket), the color of the vehicle, vehicle number and any emblems or insignias.
      3. Take pictures of damage if possible.
    • After obtaining this information, you should call the Road Yard Supervisor in your area and explain the damage to them.

    • If the damage was caused by County equipment, file a “Claim Against the County” form with the Risk Management Division, within six months of the occurrence. A claim form may be obtained by calling the Radio Room at (909) 387-8063.Be sure and include copies of written estimates of damage and photographs, if possible. Mail to Risk Management, 222 West Hospitality Lane, Third Floor, San Bernardino, CA 92415-0016, (909) 386-8631.Be sure to check with your yard supervisor first before filing a claim against the County.

    What's next

    We'll keep updating this report as more information becomes available.

    What questions do you have about the weather we're experiencing?
    A massive winter storm is hitting Southern California. We're here to answer your questions.
    ]

    Phoenix Tso and Jacob Margolis contributed to this story.

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