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'Beyond aggravating': Investigating Placer County's delayed emergency declaration

As winter storms continue to wreak havoc, ABC10 investigated why some counties in the region are on California's state of emergency list while others are not.

PLACER COUNTY, Calif. — When Jami Janes began renovating her nearly 130-year-old home, she found something unexpected: Dozens of copies of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper layered within her home's walls and floorboards.

"They all (date back) around 1895," said Janes.

It was how homes were insulated back then; a time when her town of Dutch Flat was being built.

"We have a lot of houses here that we want to preserve but it's really difficult to stay warm and function," said Janes.

Especially with harsh winter storms bringing snow levels Janes says she's never seen in her 30+ years living in Northern California.

"It just kept coming and coming and coming," said Janes. "And no power."

Credit: ABC10, Rory Ward

Janes and her kids spent five days without power, dealing with freezing temperatures inside their home.

"It was 38 degrees in my room," said Janes.

Worse yet, if they wanted to leave, they couldn't. A tree weighed down by snow fell, narrowly missing her home and crushing her four-wheel truck.

"I was in my truck 10 minutes before that happened," said Janes.

Credit: Jami Janes

While neighbors always help neighbors in Dutch Flat, she says their community has largely felt forgotten about.

"It's really frustrating because this is a 'can-do' place," said Janes. "But a little recognition or help... or something."

Which is why when she saw the 13 counties put under California's state of emergency list Wednesday, she was frustrated.

Their neighboring county, Nevada County, was placed on California's state of emergency list, but Placer was not. At that time, there was no declaration of emergency for Placer County.

"We could go right out here," Janes said motioning to her backyard. "Not even three miles and we're in Nevada County."

ABC10 began investigating how some counties can be placed on California's state of emergency list, while other counties dealing with similar conditions are not on the list.

We first called California's Office of Emergency Services. They explained in order to be added to the statewide list, a county should first declare a local state of emergency. So, ABC10 went and asked Placer County officials why this hadn't happened.

"It took us longer than we wished, in hindsight we certainly should've gotten out there sooner," said Wendy Williams, Placer County Communications Director. "But we're out there now."

ABC10 interviewed Williams as well as a number of other Placer County officials Friday. They took steps to declare a local state of emergency the same day.

"Today our CEO has signed a proclamation declaring a local emergency for Placer County," said Williams.

While a county's CEO can declare a local emergency, it's not official until their board of supervisors ratifies it. Typically, a county's board of supervisors are the ones to officially declare an emergency, but the CEO can when they're out of session or unable to.

ABC10 went to District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson whose constituents include Dutch Flat residents.

"The declaration itself of an emergency can happen up to 10 days after an incident occurs," said Gustafson. "Right now, we've been able to handle things on our own with our county staff and our first responders that we have."

Janes disagrees.

"That's beyond aggravating. We haven't heard anything from the county. They don't offer any support, nothing (besides) some snow plowing," said Janes. "It goes to show how out of touch they are."

Supervisor Gustafson says the county was already acting in an emergency-situation sense.

"We're operating like it's an emergency," said Gustafson. "I can tell you our staff has been out there around the clock since the start of this."

So, what actually happens when a state of emergency is declared?

"We never want to take the decision to declare a local emergency lightly," said Dave Atkinson, Assistant Director of Emergency Services of Placer County.

Once the county is declared as being under a state of emergency, they can move resources faster to impacted areas.

"It also provides us with the ability to request direct assistance from the state," said Atkinson.

The Governor's Office of Emergency Services told ABC10 the state can provide resources including the National Guard, more emergency responders and the support of other counties and personnel to help with a variety of things, even removing snow.

For Janes, she hopes help comes to Dutch Flat in a number of ways, but especially in a rush in removing trees that could come down on her house the same way one did on her car.

"I'm scared every single night," said Janes.

For Placer County residents looking for help dealing with the winter weather, the county's emergency services offices has the website, ReadyPlacer.org, that includes information about roadway impacts and power outages.

WATCH MORE ON ABC10: California Winter Weather Watch | Sierra snow and valley rain continue this week

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