By Sarah Jackson
Special to Sierra News Online
MOUNTAIN AREA — Shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday, PG&E began powering off eastern Madera County.
PG&E customers from North Fork to Oakhurst to Yosemite Lakes Park began reporting their power was out between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m.
According to PG&E’s website, as many as 16,675 PG&E customers around eastern Madera County could be impacted by the outage. About 4,100 PG&E customers in Fresno County foothill communities were also reported to be without power Sunday afternoon.
In North Fork Sunday, winds estimated at 50 to 70 mph toppled trees, causing one large oak on Rainbow Road to narrowly miss a propane tank. CAL FIRE was on the scene Sunday afternoon removing the downed trees with chainsaws.
Traffic lights at signaled intersections in eastern Madera County were all reportedly flashing red Sunday afternoon and Yosemite Unified School District sent out a notification Sunday night announcing that all Monday classes were canceled.
Meanwhile, across California, more than two million people could be impacted today and into next week as the utility says it could shut off power to nearly 1 million customers in parts of 36 counties.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) had warned that a planned power outage could begin in Madera County “sometime between noon and 2 p.m.” on Sunday afternoon. (On Saturday night, PG&E was alerting Madera County customers a shut down could come as early as 6 a.m. Sunday.)
On Sunday evening, the EOS said that the “high wind event” was expected to end overnight and that power line inspections would begin at daybreak Monday.
PG&E Spokesperson Paul Doherty provided an update and clarification Sunday morning how Sunday’s planned Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in the mountain community would be implemented.
Doherty said certain criteria, including high wind speeds and dry weather, would trigger the PSPS. Forecasted sustained winds over 25 miles per hour and/or gusts over 45 miles per hour comprise the stand-alone wind criteria for instituting the PSPS, he said. However, other factors also matter, including temperature, terrain, dry fuel load, red flag warnings and humidity levels below 20 percent.
These factors continue to be monitored by local field crews and the PG&E meteorological team at their Wildfire Safety Center in San Francisco, Doherty reported Sunday morning.
During PG&E’s PSPS events, three notifications are made. The first notification is 48 hours prior to an event, stating power “may” be shut off. The second comes 24 hours prior and is also a “may” be shut off notification.
In the event of an update on the third notification, PG&E will first notify agency partners such as public safety partners, government agencies affected, and Emergency Operations Centers comprised of these entities. Next, affected customers are notified directly.
On Sunday afternoon, a number of customers in eastern Madera County reported that they did not receive the third notification until nearly an hour after the outage began.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office warned on its Facebook page that power “could be out from 12 to 48 hours.”
The Madera County Sheriff’s Oakhurst Substation at 48267 Liberty Drive is currently serving as a Community Resource Center, providing air conditioning, restrooms, bottled water, cellphone charging and emergency notifications for the community.
The Oakhurst Area California Highway Patrol Office at 40500 Redbud Drive is also open for cell phone charging, air conditioning and emergency notifications.
After the power is shut off, PG&E suggests the following:
- Unplug or turn off appliances, equipment and electronics to avoid damage caused by surges when the power is restored.
- Leave a single lamp on to alert you when the power returns. Then, turn your appliances on, one at a time.
- Typically, your refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours and a full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours–as long as the freezer and refrigerator doors are kept closed. Consider using coolers with ice to keep food cold and safe.
- Be sure to use generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills outdoors only. Do not use a gas stove for heat.
- Check on your neighbors.
*This story will be updated as more information becomes available.