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PG&E power outage curtailed in Northern California as utility cites improving weather outlook

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PG&E curtailed its planned power outage in Sonoma County and across Northern California at mid-day Wednesday, citing improved weather conditions that limited the cutoffs to about 5,500 customers, one fourth of the number that had been scheduled.

The decision came as dry wind continued to blow in Santa Rosa, but humidity no longer met the threshold for an outage aimed at preventing wildfires, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

As the day began, PG&E had intended to shut off power to 19,265 customers in the county — down from the original plan envisioned to impact nearly 40,000 customers.

“The weather models in advance of this wind event were extremely variable – showing the possibility for either a rain event or a dry offshore wind event,” Contreras said.

The utility announced that 83,000 customers in five counties and the Guerneville area of Sonoma County will not lose power. About 14,000 customers in four counties may still be impacted.

The outages started about 7 a.m. and impacted customers well east of Highway 101, Contreras said.

Shut-offs in west county, which were due to start at 4 p.m., are now canceled.

Contreras said some unplanned outages could still occur today due to the continued winds.

PG&E still plans to restore power to all customers by the end of the day Thursday, but could complete the work sooner in Sonoma County due to the curtailed outage, she said.

Kristine Burk, an east Santa Rosa resident, said she got up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to shower and make coffee and breakfast because the outage would cut off her well water.

Burk, who has been hit by all six outages in the county this fall, said she was “one of the unlucky ones” this time. “I hate to feel special in this regard,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.

No one wants wildfires, Burk said, but she questioned PG&E’s handling of the shut-offs.

“I wish I felt like there was some method to the madness,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me.”

A PG&E map of the outages showed they included customers along the Mark West Springs Road corridor into Napa County and in east Santa Rosa, a large area of Rincon Valley, east of Middle Rincon Road.

The winds picked up intensity throughout the morning in Santa Rosa, littering the ground with piles of dry leaves yanked off tree limbs swaying high overhead.

Colleen Falconer, owner of Colleen’s Coffee Shop at the intersection of Mountain Hawk Drive and Sonoma Highway, said the shop lost power around 7:10 a.m. Wednesday, and this blackout was the first time that she decided to stay open, offering an amended menu of pastries, cold sandwiches and coffee.

Customers that have become regulars slowly trickled in for a caffeine boost in a dim room illuminated by one lamp and the sun beaming through the front windows.

“I lost everything in the walk-in (the first time). It was pretty devastating,” said Falconer, who has now changed her purchasing habits until the fire season ends. “I’m a pretty new owner so this has been hard.”

Previous shut-offs have cost thousands of dollars in food losses for a small business barely a year old, she said.

Two customers, Leyla Carreon, 52, and Richard Carreon, 67, of Oakmont said they have learned a lesson or two with each power shutoff over the past two months, but there is a fatigue factor settling in.

“I’m just tired,” Leyla Carreon said. “I’m ready for the rain so I can have a break from being on high alert.”

The couple has lost power each time PG&E has deengergized power lines in the east Santa Rosa area this fall. Richard Carreon, a retired Verizon employee who used to maintain cell phone sites, said he understands why the utility proactively cuts the power.

But that does not change the fact that things they have come to rely on — like warm meals and hot water — have repeatedly been unavailable.

“It’s been a series of adjustments (each time),” he said. “The first one hit us a little hard because it was cold. We weren’t as prepared as we could’ve been. It’s been stressful trying to figure out what to do with one foot in, one foot out the door.”

A red flag warning in the region started at 4 a.m. and was expected to remain in place until 7 a.m. Thursday. Dry north winds gained strength before dawn, including a 71‑mph gust recorded at 6 a.m. on Mount St. Helena.

Fire chiefs brought on extra firefighters and equipment for the red flag warning. No wind or fire issues were reported so far Wednesday morning.

But as the work day started Wednesday, winds buffeted areas of the county.

Tuesday night a quick front passed over the region, in some areas briefly dropping real rain. Amounts at most were about one‑tenth of an inch but most areas saw less than that, said Spencer Tangen, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

“With that amount of rain, some grasses get a little bit wet but with the gusty winds and dry conditions it doesn’t take long at all to dry out,” Tangen said.

“There’s still are concerns about fire weather,” Tangen said.

That soaking ran that’s needed could arrive next week. There’s a cold storm headed this way that could arrive late Tuesday into Wednesday. Early forecasts show it could bring a decent amount of rain, but it was too early Wednesday to count on that, he said.

Winds were the main issue Wednesday. The forecast still called for the strongest winds above 1,000 feet, at about 20-30 mph with gusts reaching 35-45 mph.

That should die down during the day, pick up again Wednesday evening and blow away by Thursday, Tangen said. “These winds really are going to die down a lot tomorrow. That should be the end of it for this one.”

Afternoon temperatures are due to reach 70 degrees in Santa Rosa or even a little warmer — that’s 5-10 degrees above average for this late in the year when the average is more like 63 degrees.

Contreras said the rain that fell wasn’t enough to make a difference in the fire danger. She said some customers included in the outage may have had rain overnight and not much wind but they could have a power line that runs through areas with higher fire dangers, Contreras said.

Sonoma County issued a cold weather advisory Wednesday morning in response to forecasts of temperatures in the 30s overnight in parts of the county that might be without power.

Infants, the elderly, those without shelter or heat, and people using alcohol or other drugs are at higher risk from health problems caused by cold, the advisory said.

Health officials recommended that people stay indoors as much as possible when the temperature drops, and wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing, a hat, scarf and mittens when going outdoors.

PG&E has opened four community resource centers offering water, coffee and tea, snacks, ice, wifi and restrooms, along with blankets and heating or cooling as needed. The centers are located in Santa Rosa, Cloverdale, Sonoma and Sea Ranch. Details are available online at www.pge.com/pspsupdates.

The outages are the latest in a string of planned outages by the power county affecting millions staged due to the season’s dangerous weather, including last month when fire broke out in The Geysers and grew to become the county’s largest in history.

Sonoma County initially was to have 39,376 customers knocked out of power, but that number dropped late Tuesday night due to improved changes in the forecast.

Power outage maps also showed 3,795 customers were out in the greater Calistoga area, along Highway 128 including Knights Valley in Sonoma County, and 4,070 customers in Lake County were out of power for the planned outage.

Statewide, the outage was to involve 181,000 customers. Sonoma County was one of 10 counties included in the morning outages. Outages in six additional counties, plus the Guerneville‑area outages, could still occur later Wednesday, Contreras said.

Check back for updates.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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