Outside a Safeway grocery store just after dawn, dead traffic lights caused backups. Commuters toting travel mugs from homes without power begrudgingly got back in their cars without coffee when security guards informed them that the store would open late.
While many residents said they had received emails or calls warning them that PG&E may cut power at some point this week, most said they had trouble getting access to online maps and were unaware after a day of delays on Wednesday if the shut-off would actually happen.
Beth O’Shaughnessy and her family of four lost power at their Larkin Valley home with 13 horses, dogs and other pets around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night. Though the family has a generator for winter storms in the mountains, they had held off on stocking up food because of the uncertain timeline and long lines for fuel. “We weren’t sure if we would be able to get gas, so we didn’t want to get too much stuff,” she said. “One thing at a time, one meal. I’m kind of keeping that in the back of my head.”
Gayle Clark, a 69-year-old Air Force veteran, watched the commotion outside the grocery store with interest as he walked his brown Doberman. Mr. Clark, an electrical contractor who said he has worked for utilities elsewhere in the state, has for the past five months lived in a trailer with a generator after he was unable to find a landlord willing to accept a subsidized housing voucher. For as long as California’s fire problem endures, he expects similar scenes in the future. “This isn’t the end of this,” Mr. Clark said. “This is the beginning.”
Many in Northern California had harsh words for PG&E.
Citing a weather forecast ideal for wildfires and staring down billions in potential liabilities from past blazes, PG&E decided sparks from its electrical equipment or a downed power line would pose a greater risk than grumbling customers.
But some residents and state officials felt the utility had overstepped.
State Senator Bill Dodd, a Democrat who represents northern counties of the Bay Area, said the situation was “beyond frustrating” in a statement on his website. “Public safety power shut-offs have a role to play when they’re needed to prevent massive wildfires,” he said. “However, many of my constituents are disturbed that the power was shut down before the winds started to pick up in the North Bay.”
“Sadly, poor performance by PG&E is par for the course, so it’s not surprising,” he added.
One police department poked fun at the utility’s less-than-ideal rollout, which included problems with its website and early maps that left some residents confused about whether they would be affected. The department, in Pleasanton, Calif., posted a fake outage map on Facebook, with the entire state scribbled out in red.