Northern California fire survivors and victims couldn’t get past garage doors

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    Northern California fire survivors and victims couldn’t get past garage doors

    As Santa Rosa resident Cheryl Diehm raced to escape her Oakmont home in the first hours of October’s deadly firestorm, she encountered an unexpected obstacle: Her garage door would not open. The power was out, the electricity cut off after nearby blazes had toppled utility lines.

    Diehm, 69, pulled the cord designed to bypass the door’s electronic system so she could open the door manually. But when she attempted to pull up the heavy wooden door, she could only lift it about 2 feet off the ground.

    “I put the garage door down and repeated the whole process two or three times,” Diehm said. “I could get it only 2 feet, and I couldn’t get it to budge any further than that. This is a garage door that I have gotten up in the past.”

    Thankfully for Diehm, a Kenwood couple fleeing the fire stopped and – with difficulty – helped her raise the door, allowing her to drive out with her two cats and pick up a ?90-year old neighbor on the way.

    It was an unsettling experience for Diehm, a former district aide for Rep. Mike Thompson and veteran of North Bay political circles. Many of her neighbors in the Santa Rosa retirement community encountered similar difficulties, she said, prompting her to buy a backup battery for her own home and embark of late on a personal lobbying campaign, urging federal, state and local officials to consider how they might encourage widespread use of backup batteries in garages.

    Had flames charted a different course that night – laying…

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