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Thousands of North Bay residents and workers were contending with no power Wednesday, just a portion of hundreds of thousands of PG&Es customers caught in its unprecedented electricity shut‑off in the face of severe weather expected tonight heightening risks of wildfires.
In Sonoma County nearly 70,000 customers were without power from roughly 50 planned outages. In Santa Rosa, 26,431 customers were affected, PG&E officials said.
One of the hardest‑hit areas is the Sonoma Valley, where outages left nearly 16,000 customers in the dark. In Petaluma, seven outages affected 4,459 customers.
With @PGE4Me pushing back the power shutdown in @sanmateoco for several hours due to the changing forecast, anticipation and anxiety build. Cashier Kim Torres at Woodsides Roberts Market says she has never seen such panic among customers. #psps #abc7now pic.twitter.com/T6bRv941ut
A Santa Rosa fire official reported an uptick in automobile crashes as drivers struggle to navigate intersections with no working traffic lights.
Weve spent the last several days preparing and messaging communities on potential impacts. Now were reacting to what unfolds throughout the day based on the loss of power, said Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal for Santa Rosa Fire.
Chris Snider owns the the Baskin-Robbins in St. Francis Mall with her husband, Don. Working in the freezer with light from a battery. hoping the ice cream does not melt. Not happy. At all. Her mood…colder, even, than all those gallons of 31 flavors. #pgeshutdown #abc7now pic.twitter.com/7EBbz4mwvy
Numerous Sonoma County schools planned to be closed Thursday, with the outage expected to continue into the weekend in some areas. PG&E has said it will work to restore power after the winds die down but has noted that it may take up to five days to restore power in some areas.
Class has been canceled at several Santa Rosa City Schools campuses: Maria Carillo High School, Rincon Valley Middle School, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School, Santa Rosa Middle School, Hidden Valley Elementary School, Proctor Terrace Elementary School and Lewis Education Center.
Kenilworth Junior High in Petaluma, Riebli Elementary School in the Mark West Union School District, Rincon Valley Charter School and the Austin Creek, Sequoia, Whited, Binkley and Madrone elementary schools in the Rincon Valley School District also planned to be closed, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.
The Alexander Valley, Cloverdale Unified, Geyserville Unified, Kashia, and West Side Union school districts also planned to be closed. The Waugh School District is closed for non-student days, with teacher conferences still running, according to the Office of Education.
JUST IN: Good News, the Caldecott Tunnel WILL stay open during the #PGEpowershutdown, per @CaltransHQ Caltrans has brought in 4 generators (theyre currently using 3) pic.twitter.com/7T6Ik26HKh
Residents in need of a power supply to charge their phones or laptops, plug in medical equipment or take a break from outage life will have an increasing number of options come Thursday, as the shutdown continues, Sonoma County spokeswoman Maggie Fleming said.
In addition to a community resource center already open at the Veterans Memorial Building at 1351 Maple Street in Santa Rosa, PG&E will open a second location at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, at 17000 Arnold Dr.
A community charging station also will be open at the Veterans Memorial Building in Sonoma on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The building is located at 126 First Street West.
In Rohnert Park, the citys Burton Street Recreation Center will host a community resource center from 8 a.m. to noon on Thursday. It is located at 7421 Burton Ave.
The City of Santa Rosa reported numerous outage-related automobile crashes Wednesday, as some drivers struggled to navigate intersections with no working traffic lights. There have been 11 collisions since midnight, 10 of which occurred at intersections with no working traffic lights, said city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens.
Five of the crashes resulted in minor injuries, occurring at Maple and Santa Rosa avenues; Montecito Boulevard and Calistoga Road; Bennett Valley Road and E Street; Fourth Street and Brookwood Avenue; and Pine Street and Santa Rosa Avenue.
Mertens said the city has deployed extra stop signs at major intersections to help with traffic control during the shut-off, adding that officers are patrolling the area for traffic violations.
All Santa Rosa Junior College sites, including the main campus, are to remain closed Thursday due to the ongoing PG&E power outage, the school announced Wednesday afternoon.
Gov. Gavin Newsom does not appear to have granted a request for an emergency proclamation from Santa Rosa or Sonoma County in the face of outages.
Caltrans said the Caldecott Tunnel will stay open during the power outage after generators were installed.
While the frustration that Californians are feeling as they deal with the impacts of these power interruptions is warranted, the purpose of utilities across our state conducting Public Safety Power Shutoffs is to protect communities against the real threat of wildfires due to existing weather conditions, the Democratic governor said in a statement on Facebook.
The statement also urged people to listen to PG&E, law enforcement and local officials to stay informed.
It did not address the city and countys joint request for a gubernatorial proclamation of a state of emergency, made Tuesday in a pre-outage statement. The governors office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Rincon Valley and Sonoma Valley branches of the Sonoma County Library are closed due to the outage until further notice.
Theyll be open when the power comes back on, said Ray Holley, community relations manager for the library system.
No other branches are impacted by the outage, Holley said, though other libraries are pitching in. Branches in Sebastopol and Windsor are showing childrens movies and offering board games, snacks and access to community rooms to provide options to families facing school closures, he said.
County fire officials, in a mid‑afternoon conference call with the National Weather Service, were told not to be fooled by the winds afternoon no show and ease their vigilance.
The message: Dont be lulled into a false sense of security due to the lack of wind right now. A major wind event still is going to impact us with a very significant wind storm, said Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Heine.
Due to the weather and fire potential concerns, county fire officials have added more than three dozen fire engines and water tenders, and some 120 firefighters to the countys already full staffing in case of fire.
Wednesday, the additional troops were divided into four groups and stationed at geographic areas of the county, using Highway 101 as a center dividing line, Heine said. Well have a large response on any vegetation fire and still maintain coverage in other parts of the county.
The Friedmans Home Improvement store in Sonoma will continue to operate during the outage but will limit its hours until power is restored.
The store at 1360 Broadway Ave. will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the duration of the outage. Stores in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Ukiah will stay open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Friedmans in Sonoma will focus on selling goods like batteries and flashlights, not specialty order merchandise like windows, doors, and cabinets, said company spokeswoman Rebecca Ehrlicher.
We wont say no, its just that were really trying to focus on the needs of customers to weather this power outage, she said.
There werent any crashes in the Sonoma Valley as of mid-afternoon but Sonoma Valley fire Battalion Chief Spencer Andreis was worried about later, when its dark and the valleys traffic lights still are out.
Im concerned about tonight. But I know county road (crews) and Caltrans put some signs up at intersections because all of our lights are dead. They arent even flashing anymore, Andreis said.
With the valley shut down, including schools and most businesses, Wednesday was unusually quiet around the valley.
It feels like Christmas day here, he said. There are a lot of kids running around because they are out of school. Otherwise nobodys out.
The kind of strong, gusting winds that battered the North Bay two years ago hadnt arrived, even 12 hours after the utility began turning off power for hundreds of thousands of electricity customers.
PG&E spokeswoman Ari Vanrenen said weather predictions are imperfect, and they are trying to adjust their power shutdown plans as needed. Their weather modeling comes from the utilitys in-house 24/7 weather watch team and other agencies including the National Weather Service.
Vanrenen added that the winds in higher elevations than major population centers still might require the power be cut because of the inter-connected nature of electrical circuits.
People are asking, Hey where are the winds? Vanrenen said. The electrical systems are connected together. You might not feel the wind in your location, but you still might have the power off.
Winds in the North Bay are expected to pick up between 7 p.m. Wednesdsay and 7 a.m. Thursday, with peak winds coming between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. overnight, according to the National Weather Service in Monterey.
Valley breezes are expected to be between 10 to 15 mph with gusts of up to 25 mph with sustained winds between 20 to 30 mph and gusts of up to 45 mph in hilly regions, with the potential for high spots like Mt. St. Helena to see winds of around 65 mph, said meteorologist Steve Anderson.
Its not going to be windy in the valley, he said. Its going to be windy in the hills.
Though Sonoma hadnt confirmed any cell service outage, we have seen multiple posts by individuals that have referred to service as spotty, city spokeswoman Rebekah Barr said in an email.
A T-Mobile spokesman also acknowledged that some parts of its network had been affected, noting that the company had a fleet of temporary generators at the ready.
Our network is holding up well, with only a small number of sites down in some of the areas affected by the power shut off, said spokesman Joel Rushing. Our priority is to keep our customers connected and we continue to work closely with the local utilities monitor the situation and respond where needed.
An AT&T spokeswoman said the company would be providing unlimited talk, text and data access by issuing credits and waiving overage charges for customers in more than 750 zip codes from Wednesday through midnight on Sunday.
A Sprint spokesperson referred to a page on the companys website noting that Sprint continues to coordinate closely with these local power companies and local governments to try to minimize wireless network interruptions in impacted areas.
The power shut offs may impact cell sites in the area, Sprint said in a statement. Some of Sprints cell sites may have permanent generator power available. For others, the company is actively deploying portable generators as much and as quickly as possible.
A Verizon spokeswoman has previously said it was prepared to keep customers connected during any disruption in commercial power.
Comcast has acknowledged that PG&Es sprawling outage may affect internet access, though a regional spokeswoman could not immediately speak to the scope of impacts to local customers.
As PG&E implements a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), Comcast services to both residential and business customers could be impacted, said Adriana Arvizo, a spokeswoman based in Livermore. Once power is restored, and it is safe to do so, we will restore Comcast services as quickly as possible.
PG&E has delayed the second phase of its planned power outage for a few hours, given changes to the weather forecast, according to a spokeswoman.
That includes about 800 customers in Mendocino County who were not included in the first wave of outages before dawn Wednesday. That outage included tens of thousands of customers in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Lake counties as well.
Besides those remaining 800 customers, all North Bay planned shut-offs have taken place, meaning that if you still have power, you wont lose it by way of an intentional de-energization, according to PG&E.
But inclement weather conditions, including high winds expected to start tonight, may affect power for residents outside shut-off areas if unintentional outages occur.
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, blasted PG&Es handling of its shut-off efforts in a statement. He called it beyond frustrating that were in this situation given the impact to residents who have expressed concern that their power went out before winds picked up.
For years PG&E has done a poor job on maintenance and tree clearing, and theyre still not even close to where they need to be, Dodd said. That fact, along with breakdowns in communication, are unacceptable.
At the shopping center on Montecito Boulevard and Middle Rincon, business was brisk inside Taqueria Santa Rosa. A generator was powering lights in the kitchen, the refrigerator and the range hood.
A partial menu was being offered to the lunch crowd, which included construction workers and some customers owner Lorena Anaya said she hadnt seen in a while.
We gotta do what we gotta do to keep our customers happy and not throw away food, Anaya said, adding that the restaurant will only be open until 3pm.
The outages are occurring at a prime tourist time for visitors in Sonoma County, especially winery visitors looking to enjoy the late stages of the grape harvest.
A prime destination is Healdsburg where there are no planned outages as the city operates its own power system for its 12,000 residents, said spokeswoman Rhea Borhja.
That has been welcome relief as the city houses many wineries, hotels and restaurants. At Rodney Strong Vineyards on Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg it was business as normal as the winery crushed grapes this morning. As a backup, the winery has permanent generators on site. Were relatively buffered, said Christopher OGorman, winery spokesman.
The winerys tasting room had received calls from tour companies asking if it would be open as those operators feared that some within the North Coast would be closed, OGorman said. For example, Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena announced that its tastings were closed on Wednesday, according to its Instagram account.
Rural communities surrounding Healdsburg, however, were out of power Wednesday. PG&E reported five outages in the area involving 2,400 customers.
Mendocino Countys outage started with a midnight power down affecting 6,397 customers, according to the Mendocino County Sheriffs Office Wednesday.
The outage included Redwood Valley, Potter Valley, Hopland, the greater Ukiah Valley, parts of Willits, Leggett, Piercy, Whitethorn and Whale Gulch.
Still with power were Ukiah city, Fort Bragg, Point Arena and the Mendocino County coastal communities.
The outages included 1115 Potter Valley customers, 1,171 Hopland customers, 200 customers in Calpella and there were 11 outages in the greater Ukiah area with 2,734 customers, according to PG&E.
Public safety officials not have heard reports of problems with cell phone service or 911 communications, but they are seeing a significant increase in vehicle crashes where traffic signals are without power, said Lowenthal.
Theyre spread across the outage areas of the city, he said of the crashes, adding that people should drive in outage areas with caution. We need people to heed the warnings. Slow down, come to a complete stop, and prepare for potential traffic delays around town.
Major cell service providers have said they will use a combination of batteries and generators to provide back-up power to sites affected by extended power outages like PG&Es current planned shut-off. Those plans are largely contingent on crews ability to physically access those sites, for example, to refuel generators.
We have generators and backup batteries at the majority of our cell sites (towers) and all of our switch locations (network nerve center) to keep our network up and running if commercial power is lost, Verizon spokeswoman Jeannine Brew Braggs said in a statement. And we are able to refuel our generators to keep them running. Having this backup to our backup plan is critical to our strategy. This ensures our network can continue serving customers indefinitely until commercial power is restored.
Sonoma State University has canceled all classes, athletic events, business operations and other activities through Friday after PG&E shut off its power overnight.
Campus officials are asking people to avoid coming to campus. All buildings have been locked except for residence halls and dining facilities, both of which remain open, SSU said in a news release.
SSU also canceled its Family Weekend events Friday through Sunday. Campus officials said they would provide another update by 5 p.m. Thursday.
Rides on Santa Rosas public bus line Wednesday will be fare free, but delays are expected on all routes due to the planned outage.
Additionally, CityBus will offer additional trips on Route 18 to provide extra service to PG&Es resource center at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave. Outbound buses stop on Bennett Valley Road near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, and inbound buses stop on Maple Avenue near Brookwood Avenue.
The outage is expected to knock out traffic signals in parts of Santa Rosa, and city transit officials warn that resulting delays could affect riders ability to connect with other public transportation systems.
The city bus systems customer service kiosk at the Downtown Transit Mall south of Old Courthouse Square will be closed during the outage, according to a city news release.
Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, said the utilitys forecast still indicated peak winds from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 60 to 70 mph at higher elevations.
It is very possible that customers may be affected by a power shutoff even though they are not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their specific location, Contreras said. This is because the electric system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions. We understand the impact turning off the power for safety has on customers, we dont take this action lightly. We ask for your patience as we go through this wind event.
Contreras did not say whether any PG&E customers were currently experiencing extreme weather conditions but noted that wildfires in 2017 and 2018 have made it overwhelmingly clear that more must be done to adapt and address the threat of wildfires and extreme weather with greater urgency.
Maggie Fleming, a Sonoma County spokeswoman, said the countys efforts were focused on working with residents who faced extended power outages. She echoed Chris Godley, the county emergency management director, who said Tuesday he wasnt going to second-guess PG&Es decision to carry out a historically large planned power outage.
Theres no question around whether this was an appropriate outage from PG&E, Fleming said. Were just focused on responding to the outage and recognizing the risk of the weather.
Howard Klepper, 70 of the Glen Ellen area, said his power went out at about 12:50 a.m. He questioned the timing, given that he wasnt experiencing strong winds and exceptionally low humidity.
Im just sitting here wondering why PG&E turned off our power so far ahead of any need for it, said Klepper, a retired guitar-maker who lost his home and shop in the Nuns fire of 2017. He acknowledged the possibility that an outage could prevent similar catastrophic fires, but conditions were much more severe then than they are now.
I understand that PG&E would rather be safe and air on the side of caution, but how much so, and are they calibrated right? he said. Theres an appropriate amount of caution, and I think theyve exceeded it.
The entire Sonoma Valley was out of power early Wednesday, affecting nearly 16,000 customers. Firefighters were up multiple times in the night, including to help residents who found their electrically powered chairs werent working.
Weve had several calls for elderly folks stuck in electric chairs, needing help getting out, said Sonoma Valley fire Battalion Chief Spencer Andreis.
It was very dark. Everything was out. Some of our major intersections werent even flashing, which is a big cause for concern today.
Santa Rosas city emergency operations center is open and officials gathered there early Wednesday to assess the weather forecast and the day.
We know we have a significant part of the city without power but a significant part of the city with power. There is still the potential for wind‑related incidents that cause fire, Lowenthal said.
Tonight is going to be the real test, he said. Our concern right now is during the day, before the winds get going, is traffic concerns, accidents at intersections.
The outages started about midnight and were carried out in stages, across 22 counties with more than 500,000 customers involved. The power began to black out in east Santa Rosa at 12:50 a.m. and took 3‑4 hours to de‑energize the city, Lowenthal said.
The outages offered a gerrymandered-style scene with some neighborhoods dark but a few blocks over, the lights were on.
At noon, some 234,000 customers in another seven counties will start feeling the shut down. Those outages will include Mendocino County as well as major Bay Area counties including Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.
The utility companys outage map remained down at times Wednesday. Late Tuesday night a company spokeswoman said there were issues due to high demand. PG&E is conducting the outages to try to avoid starting a fire should the winds damage generated power lines.
No major fire-related problems were reported overnight in Sonoma County. But the forecast called for the winds to increase later in the day, along with low humidity, and that the fire danger would peak Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The red flag warning was due to expire Thursday at 5 p.m. and forecasts include projected wind gusts of more than 70 mph atop the regions highest peaks.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or email@example.com. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @wsreports.