SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – More than 167,000 ratepayers in California were experiencing planned safety power shutoffs, on Tuesday, according to Pacific Gas & Electric. The utility said crews were checking power lines and it expects to have the inspections completed and power restored by the end of the day Wednesday.
Across Northern California’s picturesque wine country, a patchwork of neighborhoods began Tuesday with no electricity or air conditioning, and refrigerators filled with thawing food as their power had been cut-off in a planned PG&E outage.
The region was under a Red Flag Fire warning with hot dry gusting winds — a weather pattern that triggered a Public Safety Power Shutoff from the region’s largest utility as a precaution against wildfires.
County officials said about 15,000 customers in Santa Rosa and about 2,600 in unincorporated parts of Sonoma County were without power Tuesday. In Napa County, 5,028 customers were without power in Deer Park, Angwin, Calistoga, Aetna Springs, Berryessa Estates, the eastern slopes above St. Helena, and parts of Pope Valley.
The utility outage map showed planned outages clustered around Calistoga, northeast of St. Helena and along a corridor of Highway 12 between Santa Rosa and Kenwood.
In downtown Calistoga, PG&E crews had stacked large portable generators to keep lights on in local businesses if the utility was forced to expand the outage and turn off the power there.
Utility officials said if you had power after 6 a.m., you likely will not have it turned off. If your power is out, it could remain off until late Wednesday.
In a press release early Tuesday, PG&E said the PSPS event impacted approximately 172,000 customers in 22 counties: Alpine, Amador,
Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa, Napa, Nevada, Placer Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yuba.
“This PSPS decision was based on forecasts of dry, hot weather with strong winds that pose significant fire risk,” utility officials said in a news release.
It is the first planned power shutoff of the wildfire season.
For many Wine County residents, a rare dry lightning storm in late August got the fire season off to an early start. Firefighters were still battling the massive LNU Lightning Complex which had to grown 375,209 acres by Sunday night and was 91 percent containment.
A flare-up in one of the complex blazes — the Walbridge Fire — triggered new evacuations in Sonoma County Sunday night. The complex — the third-largest wildfire outbreak in California history — has already destroyed more than 500 homes in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.
This is the ninth time Santa Rosa has dealt with a PSPS. It often impacts communities east of the city. While many say it’s an annoyance, they are now well prepared for another blackout.
“It’s definitely been hard with those windy nights and this heat there’s some PTSD there,” says Jenni Etimoe, a Santa Rosa resident.
The community in the Rincon Valley area has dealt with numerous devastating fires over the last few years. Now, PG&E’s shutoffs are just part of their lives.
“We sort of saw this coming. So we did some preparations by the way of a solar generator,” says Chris Barbour.
As soon as the City of Santa Rosa got word of the possibility of a PSPS, it activated its emergency operations center. The fire department up staffed its stations to prepare for the potential for another fire.
“The concern now is we have the winds, says Paul Lowenthal with the Santa Rosa Fire Department. “So we’ve had several days of hot temperatures and low humidities. Is definitely a concern for ours.”
While Santa Rosa residents say it’s an inconvenience, it’s one they are willing to deal with to protect their homes.
Chris Barbour adds, “You can’t underestimate what can happen. We saw that in the Tubbs Fire and everything we’ve seen since then.”
“Hanging in there,” said Yvette Willeford outside her Santa Rosa home. “It could be worse. We could be evacuated. At least
we still have our house and our health. It’s not as hot today, thank God.”
When the lights went out at about 3 a.m. Tuesday, Willeford and her family were ready.
“I guess so,” she laughs. “We’ve been doing this since 2017, so we’re getting pretty good at it.”
The easternmost neighborhoods of Santa Rosa have been through this so many times now that the city has a routine for major intersections, and residents have a routine for keeping their refrigerators cold.
“My son and I bought this generator together,” explained Don Craig. “He lives a block away from me, down the street, so we just share so we just share it back-and-forth about every four hours.”
“This is the last hill that ain’t been burnt, coming over from Calistoga in the Tubbs fire,” said Tiger White, pointing to the hill behind his home. “So yeah, we’re definitely concerned about the winds.”
White says the power frustrations here also come with the unease of fire risk.
“It’s a whole new crazy world out there right now,” he says. “The fires, the pandemic, and everything. A whole lot of people got stress. I’m probably one of them.”