As hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County residents fled their homes and Calistogans watched the massive Kincade Fire attack Mount St. Helena, life in the city of St. Helena generally carried on during the past week, amid smoke and scattered power outages.
St. Helena public schools were closed Tuesday due to poor air quality but resumed Wednesday. The district will continue to monitor the air quality and keep parents informed of any further cancellations. Rianda House was also closed early this week.
However, St. Helena was mostly spared from a string of three PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) initiated last Wednesday, Saturday and Tuesday due to significant fire danger from high winds and low humidity. St. Helena High School’s Homecoming Parade happened as scheduled last Friday.
Many of the hillsides to the east and west lost power, with Meadowood Resort and Bell Canyon Reservoir running on generators. But St. Helena’s downtown core and densest residential neighborhoods still had power, with outages affecting the edges of town, including Spring Mountain Road, parts of the Sylvaner area, Sulphur Springs Avenue, Fir Hill Drive, Fulton Lane, Pratt Avenue, Howell Mountain Road and Big Rock Road.
PG&E announced Monday morning that it was working on restoring power to those affected by Saturday’s PSPS, but a new PSPS took effect Tuesday morning. According to PG&E, Tuesday’s shutoff would not affect additional St. Helena customers, although some customers were still waiting to have their power restored after the previous shutoff.
On Tuesday, following the third PSPS in one week, Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said residents should be prepared for an extended power outage. Updates are available at PSPS.SS.PGE.com.
“On behalf of the St. Helena City Council, I am very proud of our community for their excellent job in staying calm and focused” during the power shutoffs and the Kincade Fire, Ellsworth said.
St. Helena’s police and fire departments remain staffed up and continue to monitor the fire. As of Wednesday morning, there was no advisory or mandatory evacuation for St. Helena. An advisory evacuation remained in place for Calistoga.Ellsworth said people should keep a “Go Bag” ready, maintain two to three days of non-perishable food and water, keep their cars fueled up, and check on neighbors who might need help.
“We are fortunate to have a strong community with a history of working together through any circumstance and expect that to continue through this current situation,” Ellsworth said.
Oct. 23 PSPS
The power remained on in downtown St. Helena despite predictions it might be turned off on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 23. Plenty of traffic was heading north and south on Main Street and quite a few people were walking in the downtown.
Ellsworth said that as long as power remains on at the St. Helena Public Library, people can use it as a cooling and charging center. City Hall, which is powered by generators during an outage, will be open for people’s charging needs.
“If power goes out in the downtown, the county Emergency Operations Center will take over in determining cooling centers,” he said.
The lights were on at Sunshine Foods, as they were throughout the downtown. A huge rented generator, with power cords neatly coiled, was in the Sunshine parking lot, ready to be put into service as it was during the Oct. 9-10 PSPS.
On Wednesday afternoon, Jeff Feeney, a commercial broker with Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley, was eating a late sushi lunch at Sunshine. People were also sitting at the outdoor tables at Model Bakery. Red-and-white school banners were in many of the shop windows, celebrating the St. Helena High School’s Homecoming Parade.
Also downtown, employees from Concord’s ATG Lighting were decorating the street trees with white Christmas lights, having started the previous Monday. Manager Jesus Sainz said his crew had decorated 75 trees and the last tree was nearly finished just before 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The feeling of normalcy was in contrast with the Oct. 9-10 PSPS, when St. Helena’s Main Street was deserted and dark, although a dozen stores stayed open.
Oct. 26 PSPS
Aside from rigorous gusts of wind, Sunday morning was much like any other in St. Helena, despite PG&E’s latest PSPS.
St. Helenans gathered at their favorite local haunts to compare notes on the tumultuous week and share their sympathies for nearby communities gripped by widespread power outages, evacuations and the catastrophic Kincade Fire that had started Wednesday night in Sonoma County.
“It’s just heartbreaking what’s happening over there,” said Cathy Small. Like most St. Helena residents and the entire downtown, Small had power at her home.
“Everything is well locally, it’s just the poor devils living all around us,” said Jay Greene, whose home was also unaffected. “St. Helena remains a bubble.”
“It’s like nothing happened here except this wind,” said Mary Sproat. “How is that possible?”
“We’re very lucky,” added Mary’s husband Ron. They’d packed perishable food and ice in a cooler in anticipation of the power going out, but the refrigerator had kept humming along.
Greene and the Sproats were having coffee at the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Other St. Helenans attended church services or, like Small, waited for a coveted table at Gillwoods Cafe. Others passed by the Cameo Cinema, where proprietor Cathy Buck reassured patrons that “The Addams Family” would be playing as scheduled.
A few dozen people who’d lost power in Calistoga, in the hills, and on St. Helena’s outskirts charged their phones at PG&E’s Community Resource Center, set up in a big white tent in the St. Helena Catholic School parking lot.
PG&E staff used barrels filled with water to weigh down the tent so it didn’t blow down during high winds, as happened to the one at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.
The center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Frank and Carolyn Van Konynenburg had stocked up on candles, flashlights and batteries as a precaution, but they never lost power. Frank said St. Helena should consider setting up a microgrid back-up system similar to Calistoga’s.
“They could put it right in the parking lot of PG&E,” he said with a laugh, referring to an empty lot on Mitchell Drive that’s long been considered for public parking. “Imagine the irony of that.”
How to help
The Red Cross is welcoming donations and volunteers to serve at evacuation shelters and fire relief sites. To donate, go to redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, donate $10 by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999, or mail a check made out to the American Red Cross with “Kincade Fire” in the memo line to American Red Cross, 5297 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.
The Volunteer Center of Sonoma County and the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership is inviting volunteers to sign up at Sonoma.cvnl.org/disaster-response.
The Redwood Empire Food Bank is accepting donations of food at various locations around Sonoma County or cash at REFB.org.
GoFundMe maintains a list of verified fundraising campaigns related to the Kincade, Getty and Tick fires at gofundme.com/c/act/california-wildfires.
Napa Community Animal Response Team (CART) reported Monday morning that it’s housing 79 horses and 18 alpacas in its large animal shelters, as well as managing the care of 11 cats and four dogs at the evacuation center at Crosswalk Community Church in Napa. To volunteer for a shelter shift, go to volunteersignup.org/RA7RT.