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Blackouts Affect Thousands in North Bay and Sierra Foothills: Fire Breaks Above Alexander Valley; More PG&E Shut-Offs are Expected

by Kerana Todorov
October 24, 2019

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has shut off power to 179,000 customers in 17 counties, most of them in the North Bay and the Sierra Foothills.

The blackouts, which began Wednesday afternoon, did not prevent a fire to burn more than 10,000 acres overnight northeast of Geyserville above Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, spread by gusts of winds reaching 60 miles per hour, prompting mandatory evacuations, according to CAL FIRE and news reports issued Thursday morning.

The Kincade fire has jumped Highway 128 and was headed towards the town of Geyserville Thursday morning, according to news reports.

PG&E is expected to restore power is within 48 hours after crews inspect 8,000 miles of distribution lines and 650 miles of transmission lines. PG&E also relies on 42 helicopters to look for potential damage.

More rolling blackouts are anticipated. Another wind event may occur starting this weekend – along with more outages, according to PG&E.

“Early forecasts show this has the potential to be widespread in our region,” PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Wednesday evening.

The utility said it based its decision to shut off power based on forecasts of hot, dry winds that pose higher risk of fast-moving wildfires.

The greatest impact was in the Sierra Foothills, where 143,000 customers lost power Wednesday, according to PG&E.

In Amador County, Helwig Winery’s winemaking facility in Fiddletown lost power Wednesday afternoon, said David Helwig, general manager at Helwig Winery. Its tasting room and other facilities on Shenandoah Road in Plymouth did not lose power.

The two locations shared one generator two weeks ago during PG&E’s first power safety shut-off for October. The winery is taking no chances. It’s purchasing a second generator this week in Concord – a $20,000 used United Rental 150 kVA generator the size of a SUV, Helwig said.

Fruit continues to come in at Helwig, through harvest is almost done. Helwig needs power to keep the tanks cool and do pump overs, Helwig said.

Helwig said he will feel “much better” when the second generator arrives. “We’ll be able to operate normally,” he said.

In Sonoma County, Kunde Family Winery in Kenwood was expected to continue operations uninterrupted thanks to a backup generator. The winery invested in the generator before the 2017 wildfires because of power outages in the area.

“We’re totally sufficient,” said Jeff Kunde, chairman at Kunde Family Estate. “We’re well prepared.”
In Napa County, Smith-Madrone, located at 1,900 feet on Spring Mountain Road, lost power at 2:38 p.m., said Stu Smith, general partner.

Picking was done on Oct. 15. The winery has one more day of pressing left, said Smith. “It’s an inconvenience,” Smith said. “But it is an irritation.”


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