St. Helenans are coping with a PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff that began early Wednesday morning, with no estimate on when power would be restored.
The St. Helena Unified School District canceled school on Wednesday, and as of Wednesday morning, hadn’t announced whether classes would resume on Thursday. Also closed on Wednesday and Thursday were the Rianda House Senior Activity Center and the St. Helena Boys & Girls Club.
People who need information should go to the police department, which is open and staffed 24 hours a day.
At 7:15 a.m., St. Helena’s Model Bakery was selling pastries baked at its Napa production facility. Owner John Mitchell said he planned to stay open until noon.
“Hopefully we’ll be open again tomorrow,” said manager Maria Gonzalez.
Mya Aviña of Middletown ordered four cups of coffee for her and her co-workers at St. Helena Hospital, which is running on generators.
Aviña’s own power went out overnight, but she wasn’t worried.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” she said. “I’ve had enough time to plan and get prepared.”
Charging stations were available at City Hall, the police station, Lyman Park, the library, Pacific Union College in Angwin, and Steves Hardware, which planned to open for business as usual. City Manager Mark Prestwich said the county might open a charging station at the Napa Valley College Upper Valley Campus later on Wednesday.
There was only a light breeze on Wednesday morning, but after getting off the phone with the county Emergency Operations Center, Acting Police Chief Chris Hartley said gusts of up to 75 mph were forecast for the hills on Wednesday night.
The St. Helena Public Works Department placed stop signs at all four signalized intersections. Traffic coming Upvalley was lighter than usual, Hartley remarked, and there hadn’t been any problems in St. Helena — unlike the city of Napa, where unpowered intersections were causing major traffic jams.
“We’re right in the middle of crush, and these small wineries are going to get hit hard, just having their grapes sit there and rot,” Hartley said. “But Louis Martini and Sutter Home — they all have generators.”
Hartley planned to have extra officers on duty day and night during the outage in case there were any problems. The extra officers are using special call signs so that the city can bill the state for the overtime.
The St. Helena Fire Department has at least six firefighters stationed at the firehouse around the clock, ready to man two engines on a moment’s notice.
“We want to be able to leave the station in five minutes, as opposed to taking five minutes to get to the station and get ready,” Prestwich said. “If there is a fire, we’ll be able to get there quickly and suppress it before it becomes a bigger incident. We’ll substantially reduce the risk by getting there five minutes earlier.”
At Farmstead, generators were powering the cafe and the restaurant, along with a wi-fi connection for customers.
“We have full service today,” said Christine Hall, director of human resources for Farmstead. “It’s business as usual. We’ll be here all day and we hope a lot of people come.”
One early customer was Ana Canales of St. Helena.
“We just got done with our morning walk, got a latte at Farmstead, and now we’re heading home to have a quiet day of reading,” Canales said. “We have a generator, so we know our refrigerator’s going to be safe. And the rest of it’s just another adventure.”
Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said the city’s message boards are being used at city hall and at the north and south ends of town, on Highway 29.
The St. Helena Public Library doesn’t have a generator, but even without power it will remain open from 10 a.m. until sunset, Library Director Chris Kreiden said. The library also has a solar-powered device people can use to charge their cell phones, Kreiden said.
On Tuesday morning, junior warden Grant Showley was getting Grace Episcopal Church ready to become a cooling station during a possible power shutdown. He was in the kitchen cutting cardboard and had pulled the church’s 11,000 watt WEN generator from a storage closet. The generator is powered by either gasoline or propane and will be used to run the church’s freezer, refrigerator and two portable air-conditioning units in the downstairs basement of the fellowship hall.
Showley said the church sanctuary will be open for 24 hours, if PG&E shuts down the power, adding that as a stone building, it keeps cool even on the hottest days. Showley is also part of the Red Cross disaster team and is the disaster preparedness coordinator for Grace Church.