A fight at a gas station, fatal vehicle accident that caused a mass communications outage, fire at a compost facility and 3,600-acre blaze burning in Mariposa County more than 50 miles southeast of Sonora were among the notable incidents that occurred over a 24-hour period – none of which were related to a planned power blackout that was set to begin at noon Wednesday.

People throughout Tuolumne and Calaveras counties experienced issues with cell phone service for several hours Tuesday night that was apparently caused by a vehicle crashing into a utility pole at Lime Creek and South Petersburg roads near Valley Springs.F

Beginning before 5 p.m. and lasting until 2 a.m., incoming calls to the main phone lines at the Sonora Police Department and Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office were met with a recorded message that stated:

"I'm sorry, due to extremely heavy calling, we can only complete emergency calls. If your call is an emergency, hang up and dial 0 and a Pacific Bell operator will assist you."

Some as far as downtown Sonora were unable to reach 911.

California Highway Patrol reported that a 2004 Infiniti G35 struck a utility pole off of Lime Creek Road west of South Petersburg Road at about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, causing the car to become engulfed in flames and killing both the driver and a passenger.

Alcohol use was suspected as a contributing factor.

The identities of the driver and passenger were not released pending confirmation by the Calaveras County Coroner.

Officer Tobias Butzler of the CHP’s San Andreas Office said an AT&T fiber-optic line was damaged in the accident.

Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said a vehicle accident into a utility pole in Calaveras County was the cause of the mass outage.

Ryan Oliver, spokesman for AT&T, said a car accident and fire was the cause of the outage in the Sonora area, but he was working to get more details as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Sonora Police Department reported that a call came in at 8:05 p.m. Tuesday night regarding an altercation at the 76 gas station on South Washington Street.

VanderWiel said the fight was between two females, one 18 and one 17, who had an “ongoing dispute.”

VanderWiel said the 18-year-old ran up to the 17-year-old’s 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix while she was waiting in line for gas and spray painted the driver’s window, rear window and rear passenger-side door.

“It doesn’t appear to be anything specific,” VanderWiel said of what the suspect spray painted on the alleged victim’s car.

VanderWiel said the alleged victim and people in her car chased the suspect, who threw the spray paint can at them. An altercation ensued before a male associate of the alleged victim broke it up, he said.

The alleged victim requested charges against the suspect, but an arrest had yet to be made as of Wednesday morning. VanderWiel said the names of the people involved were not being released due to the lack of an arrest.

At 10:29 a.m. Wednesday, the Tuolumne County Fire Department was dispatched to a compost pile that caught fire at the Green Works, LLC, facility off of Eagle Ridge Road in East Sonora.

Andrew Murphy, assistant chief of the Tuolumne County Fire Department, said at about 11 a.m. that firefighters were breaking up a “very large pile” that was smoldering. He expected them to be there for several hours until it was fully extinguished.

Murphy said there was a concern that the fire could spread due to winds predicted for later in the day, which was the basis for PG&E to announce a planned power shutoff at noon. Without winds, he said they didn’t expect any issues.

“One thing we’re reminding everybody is this public safety power shutoff is something to think about,” he said. “People need to be careful when they are out doing things.”

Skies in the area were smoky prior to the fire at the compost facility due to a separate blaze burning more than 50 miles southeast of Sonora that had burned 3,600 acres as of Wednesday morning.

The so-called “Briceburg Fire” started at about 4:15 p.m. Sunday at Highway 140 and Briceburg Road north of Midpines, according to Cal Fire.

Murphy said there wasn’t much concern about the fire spreading into Tuolumne County as of Wednesday afternoon, though he said it was the cause of the smoky skies earlier in the day.

The fire was 10 percent as of Wednesday afternoon with 966 personnel assigned, as well as eight helicopters, 54 fire engines, 14 dozers, and 19 water tenders.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.



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