Eyes on Oroville - Tucson News Now

Eyes on Oroville

Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – Jerry Johnson was told Sunday that he had less than an hour to evacuate his house. At that point, there was no telling if the Oroville, California dam was going to collapse. So Johnson grabbed what he deemed most valuable.

“Get the dogs,” said Johnson’s son, Wildcat head baseball coach Jay Johnson. “He’s an avid hunter. Get all his guns and a few important things and get out of there.”

The Arizona skipper has kept a keen eye on Oroville, where a record amount of rainfall helped lead to the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents, including his father. The town, located an hour and half north of Sacramento and whose population is less than the undergraduate enrollment of the University of Arizona, holds a special place in Johnson’s heart.

Oroville California is Johnson’s home.

“You start thinking about where you grew up,” said Johnson. “The whole town, downtown, main drag, bad news.”

Johnson’s father lives roughly ten minutes away from the dam.

“He said it was crazy,” said Johnson. “Traffic is not a normal thing up there and everybody trying to get to the freeways at one time, he was able to get out of there and be okay.”

As rain filled Oroville Lake, too much water was draining too fast from the main spillway partially because of damage it had already suffered. Millions of gallons began to flow over the emergency spillway. The dam looked nearly ready to burst.

“Living there, you know magnitude of the lake,” said Johnson. “If you looked at a picture of it and you saw the water behind it and everything that filters into that lake it’d just be nonstop for a long time,” said Johnson. “Some of the images people were talking about weren’t pretty. It would make a bad hurricane or something look small.”

So Jerry Johnson grabbed the dogs and the guns and drove north thirty minutes to Paradise, California where he waited until officials Tuesday declared it was safe to come home. But even that came with a caveat.

“They could restart (the evacuation order) any time based on how the dam and the emergency spillway respond to the incoming weather, the snow melt north of town.”

If Johnson’s father needs to leave again, he can be assured of at least one safe haven where the sun remains shining – Tucson. But Johnson is keeping his fingers crossed that it doesn’t come to that.

“Be nice if the weather would take it easy on them up there,” said Johnson. “I know people are working really hard. It kind of embodies that whole town, the work ethic, and pulling together. Just hoping for the best.”

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