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.The largest power shutoff saga to affect the Napa Valley had all but wrapped up Friday, as Pacific Gas and Electric reported 98 percent of customers were expected to have power by 6 p.m.
The first wave of Napans began to receive power at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. They returned home to find lights flickering on and ceiling fans whirring for the first time since bedtime on Tuesday. They looked forward to Wi-Fi, home-brewed coffee — and most of all — hot showers.
By Thursday evening, residents in dark pockets of Napa, including Browns Valley, Old Sonoma Road, Old Town and north Napa were reporting having their power back. St. Helena’s Main Street got re-electrified.
An estimated three-quarters of Napa County’s population — 32,500 PG&E customers — lost power in preemptive shutoffs intended to avoid wildfires sparked by utility equipment during strong winds when the fall landscape is tinder dry. American Canyon and Napa’s core was largely spared.
Statewide, an estimated 2 million Californians lost power during PG&E’s shutdowns.
Power had been restored to 93 percent of Napa County residents who lost power as of 4 p.m. Friday, said Napa County spokesperson Noel Brinkerhoff. The utility aimed to have power restored to 98 percent of those customers by 6 p.m. and the remaining two percent Saturday.
The blackout, which was the first for PG&E customers in Napa’s urban core, was frustrating for many in the county not used to losing power on as a deliberate policy.
Napa County residents scrambled to get gas and generators Tuesday night before much of the county lost power at midnight. Schools closed throughout Napa County for two days and the St. Helena business district went dark, as did south Napa businesses. Long lines formed as some stores were only able to accept cash. The hum of diesel generators could be heard in Napa neighborhoods and throughout Calistoga.
Wineries, in the peak of harvesting red varietals, were forced to turn to generators and readjust their production schedules, or close their doors altogether. Napa County health care facilities with no or limited power overcame hurdles to serve patients as best they could. Hundreds visited public charging stations set up by the county, PG&E or public agencies.
Traffic snarled and collisions followed after signal lights went dark at some highway intersections, though power has since been restored, said California Highway Patrol Officer Marc Renspurger.
The strongest winds in the San Francisco Bay Area were reported at Mount St. Helena, which saw hurricane-force winds overnight Thursday, PG&E said. The lowest regional humidity values were registered in the higher regions of UpValley Napa County, too, according to the National Weather Service.
PG&E had said it would only send inspectors into the field by foot and helicopter when the worst of the weather had passed. Power would be restored only when they determined it to be safe.
Inspectors got the go-ahead in some counties at 2 p.m., but by Thursday at 3 p.m., PG&E said it was safe for inspectors to deploy in Napa County. A half hour later, residents reported power was restored.
PG&E inspectors identified roughly two dozen weather-related damages to its infrastructure in Northern and Central California, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether Napa County equipment was affected.
Napa County and other parts of the Bay Area were under a red flag warning for two days, ending at 5 p.m. Thursday. By Friday, a wind advisory for the area had also concluded.
Humidity levels continued to remain low, the National Weather Service said in forecast at 5 a.m. Friday.
Though most customers have been restored, the winds have subsided and cooler weather is expected in the coming days, the power shutoff isn’t yet in PG&E’s rearview mirror. It will still have to justify and explain its decision to cut power in a report to the California Public Utilities Commission.
Commission President Marybel Batjer called the utility’s response unacceptable during a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday.
Several charging stations are still open, though they will be closing as more residents receive power, Brinkerhoff said. The county’s bilingual Emergency Operations Center can still be contacted at 707-299-1501.