From Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, residents persevere during power outages – Santa Rosa Press Democrat

From Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, residents persevere during power outages - Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Santa Rosa feeling the pain of power shut offs
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About 2 million Northern Californians — including 2 in 5 Sonoma County residents — braced for a second day without power, after they were plunged into darkness early Wednesday because of heightened wildfire risk, part of an unprecedented shutdown across nearly three dozen counties. The sweeping outage cut electricity to about 66,000 PG&E customers in large swaths of Sonoma County as part of a preemptive move in anticipation of strong winds not seen since the 2017 North Bay firestorm that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 24 people in Sonoma County exactly two years earlier.

Doug and Joan Jones, who live in Santa Rosas Oakmont community, flipped through a newspaper reading quietly to themselves Wednesday afternoon as they sat in a large white tent in the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building parking lot.

Though the cause of the most violent blaze, the Tubbs fire, remains in dispute, the remaining 2017 fires as well as last years deadly Camp fire in Butte County were linked to damaged power equipment owned by PG&E, now mired in civil litigation and bankruptcy proceedings. The totality helped spur the companys adoption of preemptive shutdowns similar to those long used in Southern California during periods of high winds.

Video: PG&E power shutoffs outrage a lot of people including Governor Gavin Newsom

Inside the tent, a makeshift community resource center put up by PG&E, the couple recharged the batteries in a portable oxygen device that Doug Jones, 86, uses to help him breathe after undergoing lung surgery in July.

Strenfel, with PG&E, said the hot, dry Diablo winds heading toward the North Bay were part of a California-wide fire weather event that on Wednesday swept down the Sacramento Valley, with gusts up to 50 mph reported in Redding. After reaching peak risk in the North Bay early Thursday, it was expected to recede Friday in the Tehachapi Mountains area of Kern County

Though the couple has a larger oxygen device in their home, it was useless during the utilitys planned power shut-off, which cut electricity to an estimated 40% of Sonoma Countys 500,000 residents.

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.

In the past few days, the couple had been considering buying a generator and even hired an electrician to help them determine what kind would be best for them, Joan Jones, 81, said. It was too late, however, to avert having their home go dark Wednesday.

By the time we knew what we wanted to buy, (the stores) were all out, Doug Jones said. Were hoping that PG&E gets their act together and turns the power back on.

Staff Writers Chantelle Lee and Martin Espinoza contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com, Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com, and Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com.

The couple were among the 26,000 Santa Rosa customers — and more than 200,000 people countywide — affected by PG&Es intentional shut-off, a precautionary tactic to reduce the risk of its power lines sparking a wildfire.

Many area residents took the preemptive measure in stride, while others responded with frustration and anxiety realizing power restoration wont begin until Thursday afternoon and it could take up to five days to finish the process.

About 2 million Northern Californians — including 2 in 5 Sonoma County residents — braced for a second day without power, after they were plunged into darkness early Wednesday because of heightened wildfire risk, part of an unprecedented shutdown across nearly three dozen counties. The sweeping outage cut electricity to about 66,000 PG&E customers in large swaths of Sonoma County as part of a preemptive move in anticipation of strong winds not seen since the 2017 North Bay firestorm that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 24 people in Sonoma County exactly two years earlier.

With more than 30,000 county children home from schools because classes were canceled Wednesday, and many campuses opting to remain closed Thursday, parents of younger students were left wondering how to occupy them.

Though the cause of the most violent blaze, the Tubbs fire, remains in dispute, the remaining 2017 fires as well as last years deadly Camp fire in Butte County were linked to damaged power equipment owned by PG&E, now mired in civil litigation and bankruptcy proceedings. The totality helped spur the companys adoption of preemptive shutdowns similar to those long used in Southern California during periods of high winds.

Mireya Sanchez, a pharmacy technician who lives in an apartment complex near Howarth Park, said she was forced to stay home from work because she could not arrange for anyone to watch her children.

Strenfel, with PG&E, said the hot, dry Diablo winds heading toward the North Bay were part of a California-wide fire weather event that on Wednesday swept down the Sacramento Valley, with gusts up to 50 mph reported in Redding. After reaching peak risk in the North Bay early Thursday, it was expected to recede Friday in the Tehachapi Mountains area of Kern County

Sanchez, whose home was without power, on Wednesday afternoon took her youngest kids and a neighbors son to Howarth Park to play.

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.

They had no school and theres no electricity, so I had to bring them out a couple of hours. And theres no internet at home, she said.

We understand the impact that turning (off) power has on our customers and our communities, Sumeet Singh, vice president of PG&Es Community Wildfire Safety Program, said during a news conference Thursday evening. This is not a decision we take lightly, and we thank our customers and our communities for your patience.

The power shut-off affected a large number of residents on the east side of Santa Rosa, including Rincon Valley. At the Safeway on Calistoga Road and Highway 12, shoppers in search of ice, food and batteries were redirected to the Safeway on Fourth Street.

Staff Writers Chantelle Lee and Martin Espinoza contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com, Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com, and Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com.

At the Montecito Center on Montecito Boulevard and Middle Rincon Road, Rod Fernandez, owner of Santa Rosa Pool Service, took the temporary blackout in stride.

At Oakmont Village Market, owners Laura and Dave Arcado were trying to stem theirs, using a portable generator from their fifth-wheel camper to keep their store operating despite the darkened homes around them. In preparation for the power outage, they also had purchased about 200 pounds of dry ice to keep perishables cold.

Fernandez, who has worked in pool services for 35 years, said his employees still were making service calls to customers residences Wednesday. However, the retail shop was closed.

PG&E Tuesday afternoon outlined its largest‑ever rollout of planned power outages to limit the risk of its electrical equipment sparking wildfires. The notice — larger than initially predicted by the power company — comes on the two-year anniversary of the North Bay wildfires, but this series of outages will affect a much wider area of about 30 counties across Northern and Central California, home to millions of residents. This report contains the latest on what you need to know about PG&Es power shutoffs and the weather forecast developing for this week.

Our operation is still going on. Its just the retail thats out of commission, Fernandez said.

Seven Santa Rosa City Schools in the outage zone will be closed Wednesday, including Maria Carrillo High, Rincon Valley Middle, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter, Santa Rosa Middle, Hidden Valley Elementary, Proctor Terrace Elementary and Lewis Education Center. The district said the schools will likely remain closed Thursday and Friday, since it may take up to 48 hours or longer for PG&E to restore power to all affected customers.

He said the power outage would have to last several days to hurt his business financially. The inconvenience is nothing compared to the financial losses he suffered two years ago after the North Bay fires, particularly from the customers whose homes were destroyed in Santa Rosas Fountaingrove neighborhood.

Bennett Valley Union School District, Victory Christian Academy, Cloverdale Unified School District, West Side Union School District, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, Geyserville Unified School District, Horicon School District, Kashia School District, Piner-Olivet Union School District and Credo High Charter will all close Wednesday. The Sonoma Mountain and Old Adobe charter schools will also be closed Wednesday.

I lost a lot of accounts, about 20% of business, he said. Weve been recovering from that for two years.

The red flag warning, indicating weather that can pose extreme fire danger, is in effect from 5 a.m. Wednesday to 5 p.m. Thursday for the North Bay and East Bay mountains and valleys as well as the Santa Cruz mountains. Forecasts call for winds at the highest elections of 65‑75 mph but also gusting winds in the valleys, such as Santa Rosa where gusts could reach 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Next to Fernandezs shop, business was brisk at the Taqueria Santa Rosa. A generator was powering lights in the kitchen, refrigerator and the range.

Once the fire weather eases — possibly Thursday afternoon — utility crews will assess lines for damage and work on repairs. Customers in populated areas where there was no equipment damage could see power restored fairly soon. Depending on the extent of the damage, repairs to more rural, less populated areas could take time and PG&E officials warn it could be five days once the weather hazard has passed.

A limited menu was offered to the lunch crowd, which included construction workers and other customers owner Lorena Anaya said she hadnt seen in a while.

Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport falls within PG&Es current planned outage area, though county staff anticipates only minor impacts. A generator will be reserved for main operations and commercial flights are expected to continue as scheduled. However, TSA security will shift over to manual screenings and passengers are encouraged to arrive to the airport early.

We gotta do what we gotta do to keep our customers happy and not throw away food, Anaya said, indicating she was going to be open until 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Planned outage maps issued early Tuesday — which are subject to change — show most of the Sonoma County outages would affect customers from all or part of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Glen Ellen, Penngrove, Geyserville, Kenwood, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Annapolis, Stewarts Point, Cotati, Larkfield, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs and Fulton.

In Cloverdale, the countys northernmost city, the partial power outage suited Tim Karis just fine. The southern third of the city, primarily south of Brookside Drive, was dark.

We had a really busy morning, said Karis, manager of Plank Coffee in the tidy downtown area. The stylish shop was nearly full at lunch, and Karis figured he was drawing customers from his only competition, a Starbucks at the south end of town closed by PG&Es blackout.

Two students whose home was without power sat at one end of a long, well-lit table with refreshments at hand.

Rory Kluesener, 18, a senior at Windsor High School who lives in Cloverdale, was working on calculus with a laptop. Im doing OK, he said of the math course. I got a B-plus and Im trying to get that A so Im studying.

Lydia Barnes, his 15-year-old niece who is home-schooled, was reading The Iliad, an ancient Greek poem attributed to Homer, and jotting down answers to questions.

Many of his fellow students, Kluesener said, likely were spending the day off from school at the Russian River.

Michel Arenales and Marisol Hernandez had brunch at a sidewalk table in front of Planks coffee shop. Their home lost power around 3 a.m. Wednesday, while Arenales was working late. But they were ready, having received a text message from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. alerting them of the planned outage.

We prepared ourselves, Arenales said, citing the flashlights, radio and food in an ice chest they had on hand. We learned our lesson in terms of emergency preparation from the 2017 wildfires, he said.

Back at PG&Es community resource center in Santa Rosa, Barney Krebs, a 61-year-old Bennett Valley resident who works as an independent contractor for a pharmaceutical company, tried to get some work done.

While the outage was an inconvenience, it was no comparison to his harrowing experience two years ago when the fires forced him to evacuate his home. Still, he wondered if there was a way for PG&E to avoid turning off power to so many customers as the main part of its fire-prevention strategy.

Im understanding, but I wonder if its really necessary to shut off suburban areas that dont seem to be close to an area that might burn, Krebs said.


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