California wildfires create scramble for internet access

The shelter at Napa Valley Community College has computers and internet to help evacuees get in touch with loved ones.

Days after numerous fires broke out in Northern California, cell phone and internet service remains limited in some areas after 77 towers were destroyed, 64 have been restored, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. 

Early this week, the Napa County community library system was inundated with thousands of people trying to access the internet to get information about the wildfires and to reach their loved ones they were separated from.

800 people flocked to the library on Monday and more than 1,300 on Tuesday, said Danie Kreimeier, Director of Library Services and Community Outreach with Napa County Libraries.

“Many of our residents didn’t have power, didn’t have internet access,” said Kreimeier.

The local library system has turned into a series of information centers to keep people connected. Each Napa County library branch has set up space for evacuees to access the internet. Internet can be accesses 24 hours a day by connecting to the library system’s WiFi from the parking lot.

Verizon, AT&T, and Xfinity have since brought in emergency temporary services to help people effected by the fires reach their loved ones.

Curtis Mentz with Verizon’s crisis response team set up said the company has set up a mobile access point at the Napa Valley Community College, which has been without internet this week and is serving as shelter for more than 300 people.

Verizon is offering a free charging station for cellphones, laptops with internet service, phones, and television at an evacuation center at the Napa Valley Community College. Mentz said Verizon is also working to provide Wifi internet access for people at the shelter.

Chris Manley, 31, of Sonoma was forced from his home early this week when flames came within a mile of it. He is currently staying at the college shelter in Napa.

“Like the second day of the fire I didn’t have any internet access or anything at all,” said Manley. “I couldn’t even make phone calls.”

Manley said cell service has gotten better since then, but access to communications services at the shelter helped him feel more at ease through the chaos by being able to reach his loved ones.

“Hopefully, it dies down soon. Just got to wait,” said Manley. “I don’t know, it’s a sad thing, definitely.”

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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