PG&E cuts off power to tens of thousands in Northern California because of fire dangers

Round two of planned power shutdowns will hit overnight Wednesday, and the numbers are more than doubling to 48,000 customers in Northern California. 

The vast majority are in Butte and Nevada Counties, totaling almost 40,000. 

Many of those same households were also shut off on Monday evening, so barely got their power back Tuesday before learning they will be de-energized again as early as 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

For the first time this week, Napa and Sonoma Counties will also see some fire-safety outages: slightly more than 700 customers in each county. 

"Everybody in town knows what's about to happen so we're kind of getting ready for it," said Bill Braddock, manager at the Cal Mart grocery store in Calistoga. 

The store itself, with the rest of the downtown core, is not in the outage zone. 

But Calistoga residents on the outskirts who do lose power may head to town, to stock up on ice for their perishable food. 

Cal Mart has four pallets of ice ready just in case. 

"When this happened last year it was everybody in town, more than 5,000 people," said Braddock.
"Now it's less than a thousand but hopefully they'll be all right because it's going to be super-hot tonight."     

The 1,400-affected customers live in relatively remote areas, near Lake Berryessa and in the hills spanning Napa and Sonoma Counties.

That number is just a fraction of the 33,000 people put on a Public Safety Power Shutoff watch in the North Bay.

The risk triggered emergency declarations and operational planning by cities and counties. 

"We decided the weather didn't warrant a PSPS to so many customers," said PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras.

"We all know weather changes, but we wanted early notification and so we cast a wide net." 
Calistoga's fire department was expecting an intentional outage, but did not learn its scope or timing until after 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"I think any community- but especially Calistoga- finds this frustrating, not knowing, people are nervous," said Fire Chief Steve Campbell. 

Calistoga's location between high-risk transmission lines made it one of the first communities to go dark when PG&E began its shutdown program last year. 

That episode was heavily criticized as costly and unnecessary, without enough notice and lasting too long. 

Now, with as many as 10,000 tourists in town for the peak of the wine grape harvest, the chief is relieved the looming outage is so much smaller. 

"We certainly don't want a repeat of the Tubbs Fire or any fire, so a little extra precaution, if needed, we support that," said Campbell. 

The landmark Cal Mart store already has one back-up generator, with a second one arriving any day.
In the market, reaction to PG&E's plans varied.  

"They're going to do what they want to do, but it's getting old and you notice there's no wind outside," said shopper Joseph Nace.

Other residents expressed annoyance. 
" I've got food in my fridge that's going to go bad, and will PG&E pay me back for that? No!," said store employee Moye Stephens.

Another deli clerk finds the outages enjoyable. 

"It's kind of like camping, getting out candles and everything," said Diana Clark, " so I think it's fun brings you back to the olden days!" 

No schools are inside Wednesday's outage zone in Napa or Sonoma counties, so classes will be unaffected. 

PG&E will have two resource centers open for affected customers: at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Santa Rosa and the Napa County fairgrounds in Calistoga. 

The utility expects to begin restoring power at about noon- depending on the wind- but the process can take as much as 12 hours to complete.