CALISTOGA (KPIX 5) – Thousands of residents in the North Bay and the Sierra foothills had their power back Monday night as PG&E continued to restore power to customers effected by the utility preemptively shutting off electricity over potential wildfire risk Sunday.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, PG&E officials said power had been restored to more than 38,000 customers in the North Bay and in the Sierra Foothills. Officials said restoration work is continuing.
As of 10 p.m., PG&E said they expected to restore all customers by Tuesday. However officials did not have specific projected time they would have all power restored.
PG&E said they would be communicating information as they continued to make progress on our safety inspections.
Earlier Monday, officials said that they planned to restore power to about 42,000 of the nearly 60,000 customers being impacted by the precautionary outage. Officials said power would be restored by midnight, but did not specify where power would be restored first.
As of about 5:00 a.m. Monday morning, the utility had shut off power to more than 17,000 customers in the North Bay, including over 5,700 customers in Napa County, 415 customers in Sonoma County and 11,309 customers in Lake County.
The affected North Bay communities include Angwin, Calistoga, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Napa, Pope Valley and Saint Helena in Napa County, along with the unincorporated northeastern Sonoma County.
In Lake County, the communities of Clear Lake, Clear Lake Oaks, Clear Lake Park, Cobb, Finley, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Lakeport, Lower Lake and Middletown are without power.
Another 42,000 customers in the Sierra Foothills, primarily in El Dorado and Amador counties, were also without power Monday morning.
With weather conditions improving early Monday, PG&E crews were able to begin the inspection of power lines and equipment for damage during the overnight winds.
Power has been shut off in the affected areas since Sunday evening, as dry conditions and winds potentially gusting to 50 miles per hour have raised the risk for wildfires.
In the Sierra, wind speeds were lower at between 20-35 mph, but with gusts of up to 55 mph. At the Kirkwood area high in the Sierra, wind speeds were recorded at 96 mph with gusts at 121 mph.
PG&E believes these extreme fire conditions, driven by climate change, are the new normal with all the unprecedented wildfires that we’ve already had this year and last year. These extreme fire conditions are going to keep happening.” PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras told KPIX 5.
When asked if this was a response to last year’s Wine Country Wildfires, some of which were blamed on electrical lines, Contreras said, “This is for fire safety, this is to prevent wildfires, and to mitigate wildfire risk for the safety of the community, for the safety of our customers and during extreme weather conditions..”
The power outages have prompted schools in several North Bay communities to be closed Monday. Schools in Calistoga are closed for the day, along with Woodland Community College, Clear Lake High School, Middletown Unified School District and Konocti Unified School District.
The utility is in the process of inspecting lines in the affected areas via helicopter, driving and on foot. PG&E anticipates to complete line inspections Monday, pending safe working conditions.
Last call came early Sunday evening to the Hydro Grill in Calistoga with the power being shut down just after 8 p.m. Owner Alex Dierkhising said he was prepared after receiving multiple warning notices from the utility.
“I got six of these Saturday and two yesterday,” said Dierkhising.
18 hours later, Calistoga was still looking like a ghost town. While he understood PG&Es concerns about preventing the kind of explosive wildfires that tore through the North Bay just over a year ago, Dierkhising felt the widespread power outage went on longer than needed.
“We support preventative measures to keep the fire under control, but I think they went a little overboard. The power, I think, could have been turned back on at least at sunrise this morning,” said Dierkhising.
Others felt the precautions were worthwhile.
“I was evacuated for a week and I don’t want to experience another fire. It was precautionary and I would rather not have a fire,” said Brittany Kennedy with the Euro Spa & Inn.
At around 4 p.m., there were already some signs of electricity returning. Dierkhising was able to turn lights on and was able to reopen his restaurant once staff arrived.
Michael Dunsford, owner of the Calistoga Inn, says he lost about $15,000 dollars since PG&E shut off power at 8 p.m. Sunday night. That’s money from hotel guests who demanded refunds, as well as restaurant customers.
“As you can see right now, we have a completely empty patio, except for the five patrons sitting at the bar,” said Dunsford. “This is the height of our busy season.”
Dunsford, who is also the vice mayor of Calistoga, told KPIX me he thinks PG&E overreacted and unduly cost many of his neighbors money as well.
Dunsford says October winds are often high and erratic, but on Sunday night, it was calm in downtown Calistoga. Still, PG&E went through with its new policy of shutting off the power as a preventive measure based on fire conditions.
“If that’s the bar they’re going to set, that’s a very serious problem,” said Dunsford. “Because the bar is set so low, we’re going to have our power cut probably half the month of October.”
A PG&E spokesman said there’s a list of criteria they consider for a shutdown: a red flag warning has to be issued from the National Weather Service, plus sustained winds of 25 miles per hour and gusts up to 45. The local temperature, climate and terrain are also considered, as well as observations of PG&E crews in the field.
Dunsford said his city council hopes to ask PG&E some more questions before the power gets shut down again.
“Are there politics at play here? Are they trying to send a message?” asked Dunsford.
The outage was affecting far more people in the Sierra foothills.
Pollock Pines resident Connie Fender relies on a machine to generate oxygen to help her breathe. It stopped working last night when PG&E shut off the power in the foothills.
“Why would you possibly think in the month of October that you’d be powerless for no reason?” asked Fender.
While the wind was calm by Monday afternoon, PG&E officials said the Sierra experienced extreme fire conditions overnight with the high winds.
Many in the area were using portable generators to help keep some appliances like refrigerators running during the outage.
Fender has a generator, but her husband passed away three weeks ago. She hasn’t been able to start it without him.
“Obviously my husband used to take care of the heavy stuff and I don’t have anybody,” said Fender.