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Electric garage doors newly sold or installed in California will soon be required to have backup batteries equipped to power them through utility outages under legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, stemmed directly from the experience of many residents, including Dodd himself, who struggled to open their garage doors amid widescale power outages accompanying the October firestorm.

At least five of the 40 people who died in the North Bay during the fires did not or could not escape through their garages, The Press Democrat reported in December.

“Requiring backup batteries on garage door openers will save lives and ensure no one is left vulnerable,” Dodd said in a statement. “With the threat of more wildfires to come, we must do everything possible to keep people safe.”

As Dodd tried to flee his Napa home after the Atlas fire began raging nearby, he found he could not open his heavy wooden garage door on his own because the power was out. A friend helped him get the door open.

Electric garage doors can be opened manually during power outages, but many survivors — particularly seniors — reported they still could not get theirs open. One of Dodd’s neighbors drove through their garage door to get out.

“Most people don’t think about this until it is too late,” Dodd said in the statement. “My goal with this bill is to raise awareness and give people the security of a battery backup.”

Dodd’s legislation, Senate Bill 969, was co-authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters. It was supported by the Consumer Federation of California.

Santa Rosa resident Cheryl Diehm lobbied local, state and federal officials — including Dodd — to make legislative changes after she could not get out of her garage in Oakmont. She heard similar accounts from many of her neighbors. Diehm, a former district aide for Rep. Mike Thompson, testified in both the state Senate and Assembly to support Dodd’s bill.

She said Brown’s signature Friday was “really wonderful news,” lauding Dodd for leading the legislative effort.

“It’s going to save lives in the future,” Diehm said. “I’m very pleased.”

The bill’s requirements will be enforceable beginning July 1, according to Dodd’s office.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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