Utility repairs after wildfires

Some residents and businesses in the Mount George/Monticello Road area east of Napa are still waiting for the restoration of AT&T land line service in the wake of the Atlas Fire. In this October photo, PG&E crews are repairing utility poles and wires damaged by the Atlas Fire.

Howard Yune, Register file photo

A prolonged, post-wildfire landline phone outage recently ended for Kenzo Estate winery on Mount George and nearby rural residents hope that they too will soon see their service restored.

“I was so excited to hear my phone ring,” winery Public Relations and Marketing Manager Katie Vandermause said upon answering her landline on Wednesday. “I haven’t heard it ring in three months.”

Of course, cellphones are a ready alternative in the 21st century, so much so that many city dwellers have cut their landlines. But cell service is spotty in this rugged area along Monticello Road.

For three months, Kenzo Estate had landline calls forwarded to employee cellphones, with a signal booster in the winery helping with reception. Now, guests phoning for tasting appointments can once again directly contact the winery.

“We’re very happy to have it back and I hope everybody on the mountain has it soon,” Vandermause said.

The Atlas fire that started the night of Oct. 8 burned through the Mount George area destroying telephone poles and lines, as well as homes. It’s unclear how many of the surviving rural homes and businesses are still without landlines and must rely on cellphone service.

“We have replaced over 120 miles of cable in Napa and Sonoma counties alone,” AT&T spokeswoman Kathryn Ijams said by email. “But work to rebuild network infrastructure remains for a small number of customers whose homes are in areas that were particularly hard hit by the fires and where our network must be essentially rebuilt.”

Much of the rebuilding work will be completed beginning in February, with work continuing the following month in certain areas, Ijams wrote. AT&T apologizes to customers for the inconvenience, she added.

Monticello Road resident Doug Schuttish was still without his landline phone service on Wednesday. He said AT&T hasn’t provided information on when service is to be resumed.

“No one actually contacted us or sent us letters updating us or saying ‘sorry for your inconvenience’ or anything,” Schuttish said.

His family must go out on the back porch to use their cellphones because of spotty service. Internet service is limited with the lack of a landline.

“I think it’s a low priority for them because there are not that many customers up here,” Schuttish said.

Ijams said customers can call 800-246-8464 to receive updates on estimated landline restoration. Even if they are in areas where landlines have been repaired, they may have additional damage at or near their house that’s keeping them without service.

Jarvis Estate along Monticello Road had no landline service on Wednesday. The winery has made do for the past three months.

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“Basically, we have a little laser pointed at a cellphone tower,” Sheila Thomas of the winery said. “Through that connection, we’re able to do voice over Internet Protocol.”

But the system isn’t foolproof and occasionally goes down with the whims of the wind.

“We understand the situation,” winery Hospitality Director Sil Coccia said. “But at the same time, here we are three months later.”

Ijams said areas in Napa and Sonoma counties that require extensive phone network system restoration are being rebuilt with fiber. Fiber optics allows such things as faster Internet speeds.

Jarvis has long wanted to have a fiber system, but was told by AT&T it would have to pay $80,000 or so to help make this happen, Coccia said. Now the fire has forced AT&T to rebuild the network.

That’s the silver lining for the prolonged, frustrating landline blackout on Mount George.

“Once we’re fully connected again, whenever that is, we’re going to be way better off than we were before,” Coccia said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa