But a safe water supply is still an issue. The water distribution system was contaminated during the fire with Benzene, a known carcinogen. Fire officials believe that the system depressurized during the fire and sucked in a toxic mix of gases from burning homes. This also happened in Santa Rosa during the Tubbs Fire in 2017.
Paradise Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Phillips reported to residents on August 6 that the district lifted water advisories on 133 standing homes and is testing and restoring water quality at 30-50 standing homes each week.
When Helix offered mutual aid assistance through the Office of Emergency Services, Phillips said they had cleared the gases from their water mains, but could use help testing and restoring water quality in customer service lines — the small pipe that connects a home to the water main. Helix sent Baker and Bryan Watte from its meters and valves section and John Wilson and Eric Hughes from its construction section to provide that help.
From 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, the four went from one water meter to the next, collecting a water sample at each standing home and installing a highline to deliver safe water to the home until the sample was tested and the customer service line approved for use. They also assisted with the installation of backflow prevention assemblies to prevent contamination from the ongoing construction throughout the community. Phillips reported to residents on August 6 that PID had installed 275 backflow prevention assemblies to date, and had 400 more to install.
Monday evening, after their first day in Paradise, Baker emailed Helix Operations Director Kevin Miller that, “There’s a lot of work up here but the town is healing. I think I speak for all four of us when I say I’m proud to be a part of this.”
In fact, Baker was speaking for everyone at Helix. Field Supervisor Paul LaFalce said, “We lost four valuable people here at Helix for a week, but everyone was so supportive of what was happening in Paradise that they covered for them and made up the difference. It was good to see.”
The four took with them to Paradise a “California Strong. Paradise Strong.” banner signed by board members and district employees at both Helix and Padre Dam. Helix engineer Jeff McMaster emailed, “Sending a crew to help, the banner, this definitely reinforces the pride in working here.”
Helix Water District provides water treatment for much of San Diego’s east county suburbs and water distribution for the 276,000 people in the cities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon, the Spring Valley community and unincorporated areas of the county.