Readers Note: The Napa Valley Register is providing free access to this article. Please consider supporting local journalism like this by purchasing a subscription. #NapaNewsNow Click here for details.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company crews have been cleared to begin the process of restoring power to 32,000 Napa County customers Thursday afternoon.
PG&E, which turned off power to an estimated three-quarters of Napa County residents and nearly two million Californians Wednesday in hopes of not sparking devastating wildfires, told officials Thursday afternoon that crews could begin inspections and repairs of power lines and circuits in Napa County, said county spokesperson Noel Brinkerhoff.
After crews determine power lines are safe, PG&E said it could take another three to six hours for power to return, he said. PG&E has previously said that full restoration of power throughout Northern and Central California could take as long as five days.
"We may see power today, but we don't really know for certain," Brinkerhoff said Thursday morning.
A utility spokesperson said should be restored between 24 to 48 hours after the weather event has passed.
As of 6 a.m. Thursday, overnight peak wind gusts on Mount St. Helena had been recorded at 77 mph, PG&E said in a press release. This is 3 mph greater than a Category 1 hurricane.
Windy, dry conditions that are conducive to spreading wildfires prompted NWS to issue a red flag warning until 5 p.m. Thursday for the North and East Bay hills and interior valleys. Napa County was also under a wind advisory.
The utility has received reports of vegetation-related damage to its de-energized equipment in the upper Napa Valley. Lines will have to be inspected and repaired before electricity can be restored, PG&E said.
The precautionary power shutoff Wednesday morning left 32,000 Napa County PG&E customers in the dark. Many schools closed and the St. Helena business district went dark as did many south Napa businesses.
Some intersections went dark, too. Traffic lights were not working at Highways 29 and 12, Highway 121 and Old Sonoma Road, and Highway 12 at Kirkland Ranch Road.
California Highway Patrol Officer Marc Renspurger blamed four Thursday morning collisions in the region on drivers running through lights that should be treated as a stop sign.
Wineries, in the peak of harvesting red varietals, turned to generators to handle ramped up production. Many people scrambled for generators and lined up for gasoline Tuesday night in the hours before the shutoff. About 150 people Wednesday visited five device-charging stations set up by the county, Brinkerhoff said.
At the CrossWalk Community Church charging station in west Napa, a half dozen people gathered in the building's auditorium on Thursday morning, typing on laptops and scrolling on cell phones. Organizers had set up extra phone chargers, power strips, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, granola bars and Mandarin oranges for members of the public.
Daniel Garcia of Browns Valley charged his cell phone in a corner of the auditorium. He said he's been taking cold showers since losing power at midnight Wednesday. He's had to purge his refrigerator, and switched to a diet of crackers, pastries, hot soda and water. His appointments were cancelled, coffee went unbrewed and emails went unchecked.
Garcia said he hears the hum of generators throughout his neighborhood. After this week, he plans to get one, too.
The first thing he'll do when power is turned back on? Take a hot shower.
"It's been awful," he said.
Garcia said he relies on equipment to help manage his diabetes. When the battery died, he charged the machine in his truck. His truck battery died, so a friend came to jump start his car battery.
Garcia, like many other Californians without power, was frustrated with PG&E. While he said wildfires were a concern, he worried that PG&E didn't have the public's best interests in mind.
PG&E has said it keeps in mind public impact when making the decision to shutoff power.
Vicki Green of Browns Valley, who charged two iPhones and an iPad at CrossWalk, was skeptical of the utility, too. She felt that shutoffs were evidence that the California Public Utilities Commission, the public agency that oversees PG&E and other utility providers, hadn't done its job in ensuring PG&E invested in its infrastructure.
Green and her husband prepared the night before power was to be turned off by washing their clothes and cooking what food they had. But the food in their refrigerator spoiled and they'll soon have to start eating out, she said.
Lights beginning to turn back on
The utility announced late Wednesday night that it had restored power to 50,000 customers in the Sierra Foothills and anticipated being able to restore power to up to 80,000 Humboldt County customers.
PG&E plans to deploy 45 helicopters and more than 6,300 personnel to inspect lines and restore power, according to the statement.
Nearly 25,000 miles of distribution lines and 2,500 miles of transmission lines will need inspecting, and repairing as necessary, before lines are re-energized, PG&E said. Inspections will occur during daylight hours.
“We faced a choice between hardship or safety, and we chose safety. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and the hardship, but we stand by the decision because the safety of our customers and communities must come first,” said Michael Lewis, Senior Vice President of Electric Operations.
Anyone looking for more information on where outages have occurred can visit PG&E's new outages map at bit.ly/2MxlFhp. The new site is not hosted on PG&E's website, which has experienced significant performance errors as people have swarmed to learn more about the power shutoff.