The first reports power was out in Calaveras County came from the resilience center in Copperopolis Wednesday, beginning at 3:25 p.m. then Angels Camp, Murphys and Arnold, and last, San Andreas, a rolling start to what likely will be a multiple-day blackout.
The planned outages came after a day of anticipation and repeated delays from PG&E, which quietly informed county officials the shutdown was imminent after a portion of northern Calaveras County went dark after midnight Wednesday.
An area near Mokelumne Hill, as well as West Point, a reader said by email, had been without power since after midnight.
The Paloma and Valley Springs areas were outside of the planned outage zone and still had power, Alt said.
A county emergency operations office was set up in the San Andreas government center in anticipation of the shut down and essential county services are still up and running via a generator, Albert Alt, Calaveras Administrative Officer, said.
Road crews, building and code compliance officials were expected to finish their shifts Wednesday and return to work Thursday with an update following heavy winds expected to pass through in the late evening and night.
Alt said he was informed by PG&E officials during a 12:30 p.m. call on Wednesday that they hoped to have the majority of customers returned to power by 12 p.m. on Saturday.
He said the planned re-energizing was expected to begin at 12 p.m. on Thursday, but noted PG&E's repeated warning that some customers may be without power for as long as five days.
He did not know specifically what day or time Calaveras County was expected to have power return.
Alt said more information would be available after a 7:30 a.m. briefing Thursday.
David Padelford of Douglas Flat visited the PG&E community resource center in the Meadowmont shopping center off Highway 4 on Wednesday morning to scope what was available: a public enclosed tent with 96 charging ports and 48 seats set up along foldable tables, portable toilets and water.
His elderly mother sat in the car beside him, unnerved and anxious.
“This has panicked her and it’s going to continue panicking her until this is done,” Padelford said.
He said he found a generator at their shared home, but it hasn’t been used in five to six years since his father died.
“We’ll just have to see if it works,” he said.
Padelford was one customer who did not seem complacent by the shutdown. He acknowledged the safety motivation, but said it created more safety hazards by forcing him to find power and save his food with limited time and money.
“I just came to check this out and see whatever services they have. We might have to come back later,” he said.
Albert Alt, Calaveras County Administrative Officer, said the power shutoff was expected to happen between noon and 3 p.m. following an an 8 a.m. briefing by PG&E Wednesday morning. The briefing was attended by Alt, members of the Calaveras Office of Emergency Services and a representative of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office.
“The wind kind of comes in waves, but when it gets to us it should be pretty significant,” he said.
The wind, which is descending on Calaveras County from the north, is expected to be between 20 and 30 miles per hour at lower elevations. At higher elevations like Arnold, he said they could increase to up to 60 miles per hour as they travel upslope.
“We have to wait and see what the damage will look like,” he said, describing the OES response as “incident specific.”
The county was most concerned about downed trees and debris on roadways, he said, noting road crews were on regular duties in anticipation for the wind.
“Any dead tree is going to be susceptible to heavy winds,” he said.
Calaveras OES, staffed by Director John Osbourne and Coordinator Chad Cossey, are responsible for setting up an operation center in the case of fire or other disaster and forwarding press releases updating the community on the status of the wind and its aftermath, Alt said.
The county has received four briefings a day which are phoned-in and attended by representatives of the dozens of counties involved in the shutdown.
“This has been unprecedented for PG&E,” Alt said.
“Other than that, we are just in a holding pattern,” Alt said. “Hopefully we’ll just get through this and get re-energized and not have an incident” like a fire.
At approximately noon on Wednesday, most of Calaveras County still had power.
“A little bubble around Mokelumne Hill” lost power sometime after midnight, Alt said, near the Highway 26 and Highway 49 junction.
Valley Springs, Rancho Calaveras, Jenny Lind, and the areas near Camanche and Pardee reservoirs were not included in the outage because they were at a lower elevation and wind speeds were not expected to pick up to concerning levels there. The dividing line of the shutdown is along a ridgeline, just east of the Highway 26 and Highway 12 junction.
Five additional resiliency centers are planned county wide, Alt said. The county resourced generators and put them at the locations at the county’s expense. Charging stations, Red Cross and bottles of water will be available at the locations, he said.
Alt said the county planned the set up the five centers because PG&E initially backed out of establishing one due to the overwhelming need statewide.
He said county and Angels Camp city officials pressured PG&E to establish one and they ultimately relented.
A steady stream of concerned citizens and curious passersby stopped in at the Arnold PG&E community resource center before noon.
“They seem to be understanding and empathetic given the concern about fires,” said Pat Mullen, customer lead for the Arnold community resource center.
The visitors included an Ebbetts Pass Fire District firefighter, who said the lingering haze and smell of smoke in the area was from a prescribed burn out of county.
Another couple was Diana and Ross Brewer, from Adelaide, Australia residents now living in Twizel, New Zealand, who said they were staying in Murphys at an Airbnb for two nights.
“It’s going to happen more and more in the future,” said Ross Brewer. “If it’s going to happen every year it’s going to be a huge issue.”
They said they were prepared for a night without power and planned to go to Marin County in an area with power on Thursday.
Six PG&E employees were also staffed to the site with multiple private contractors working on portable toilets and air conditioning units inside of the public tent.
The site was surrounded by hollow waist-height orange road barriers which a worker filled with water on Tuesday morning. The site included an operational trailer with non-public WiFi for PG&E.
“As the need grows, we can expand them,” Mullen said. “We definitely anticipate we will get more customers stopping by.”