The California Wildfires Knocked a Big Company Website Offline

O'Reilly Media's website went offline "due to the fires and power outages in California," an unsettling reminder that the internet isn't immune from the ripple effects of the climate crisis and corporate negligence.
October 29, 2019, 5:16pm
The California Wildfires Are Knocking Websites Offline
Image: Anda Chu/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

As wildfires burn across the tinder-dry Californian landscape, millions of people have had their electricity turned off by a power company that has refused to fix its decrepit, dangerous equipment.

The fear and misery caused by this ongoing disaster can't be understated, and we're seeing ripple effects in communications infrastructure, too: at least one website hosted in the affected area went offline. Even if you're outside California, wildfires and power shut-offs there mean you couldn't access this site while it was down, or any others that might be affected now or in the future, either.

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On Monday, the Sebastopol, California-headquartered O'Reilly Media tweeted that the company is experiencing outages "because our home offices are in the no-power and evacuation zones in northern California." On Tuesday morning, the homepage for O'Reilly advised that, "due to the fires and power outages in California, oreilly.com is unavailable." At the time of writing, the site is currently online again.

O'Reilly Media is a publishing and online learning company that started one of the internet's first websites in the 1990s. None of the navigation features on the company's homepage worked while it was offline, and URLs that would normally resolve to parts of the site—for example, missingmanuals.com—failed.

According to a customer service representative who answered the phone on Tuesday morning, a "large portion" (but not all) of O'Reilly's websites are hosted at the company's headquarters, which lost power on Saturday night.

"The power has not been restored and the developers are working on any access that was dependent on the HQ access to see if we can move that onto the cloud," the representative said, adding that people could log into O'Reilly's online learning portal via learning.oreilly.com/login, which was online while the main site was inaccessible.

California hosts more than 200 data centers according to datacentermap.com, including near areas affected by the power shut-offs. Sacramento, which is just a couple hours' drive from Sebastopol and so far in the clear for shut-offs because it's not serviced by PG&E, hosts data centers for CenturyLink, RagingWire, and more.

While losing access to a non-essential (in a life-or-death sense) website is far from the most impactful outcome of the current California wildfire season, it's an unsettling reminder that the internet is a physical thing, and it isn't out of the reach of the devastating ripple effects of the anthropogenic climate crisis and corporate negligence.