North Bay braces for the latest round of PG&E power shutoffs

Wednesday will bring another public safety power outage to Northern California. 

PG&E, as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, was predicting blackouts for 150,000 customers across 18 counties. It is anticipated to begin in phases as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday and continue into the afternoon. 

The utility plans to begin line inspections and repair mid-morning Thursday, once high winds have eased, with re-energization to follow. 

"Please, please, please be alert and have a plan," said PG&E's President and CEO Andy Vesey, speaking at an evening media briefing. 

Vesey noted that the scope and duration of the outages had shrunk, but that did not mean the elevated fire danger was gone.  

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, fire crews in Santa Rosa were coming on duty to form an additional strike team and two task forces.

The additional resources will put 19 extra engines in service during the Red Flag fire risk conditions. 

"We didn't anticipate dealing with this in the middle of November," said Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal, at the city's newly activated emergency operations center. 

"This is a time of year we're usually shifting from fire season and getting ready for rainy season and flood emergencies." 

Sonoma County's planned power outage this week will be its sixth this fall.  

"The first ones caused dozens of traffic accidents," said Lowenthal, "and we realized we needed dozens and dozens of stop signs, more than we had, plus generators for major intersections."

Over time, Lowenthal says much has been learned, and preparations have become easier.    

"Our response has become a machine we can quickly and efficiently put into motion, but it's not getting easier for our community, we fully recognize that."  

At Oliver's Market on Montecito Blvd in East Santa Rosa, aisles were crowded and registers busy Tuesday evening. 

"Everyone wants to know what's going on because they're kind of in the dark - for lack of a better term," said lead cashier John Ielmorini.

The store was sold-out of ice, as usual on the eve of an outage. 

But Oliver's was happy to inform customers it will remain in full operation during the outage.

After suffering previous losses, it brought in a generator big enough to power the whole store. 

"It's good for us and good for the community, people will lose power but can still get cold food and hot food," said Ielmorini.

"It is what it is, everyone's getting used to it and it's the norm right now."  

Napa County has an estimated 10,000 customers affected.  

In Lake County, the number of hook-ups is 13,000. 

Sonoma County has 19,300 meters in the outage zone. 

"We are concerned about fatigue in the community, not just physical but emotional fatigue," said Sonoma County Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley. 

As the county opened its emergency command center, Godley worried that weary residents might let their guard down, especially when a shutoff ends up less severe than predicted. 

"The community has been through quite a bit these past weeks," said Godley, "so it's a challenge for us, how do we maintain vigilance for so long? It's stress and stress is cumulative." 

For its part, PG&E is trying to reassure the public, it will make improvements and by next year, shutoffs will no longer be a frequent fire prevention strategy. 

"We all know it's not sustainable, this is not what we want to be," said Vesey, "and we will make PSPS the last quiver, the last arrow in our quiver, our last response."