PG&E gas shut-off leaves thousands of Sonoma County residents in the cold
Thousands of Sonoma County residents remained in the cold Thursday without natural gas to heat homes or cook meals and some may not see service restored by PG&E until Monday, leaving them exposed to nighttime temperatures expected to drop below freezing.
PG&E turned off natural gas service to more than 24,000 customers in Sonoma County on Sunday when the Kincade fire threatened to burn all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The protective measure was designed to prevent the wildfire from igniting the utility’s network of gas lines and triggering additional fires.
By Thursday evening, PG&E had restored service to 3,000 customers and had tried at approximately 1,000 homes where representatives were unable to contact a customer or make entry, said Mark Quinlan, who serves as PG&E’s incident commander for the public safety shutoffs.
For many Sonoma County residents, the absence of gas only compounded a week of unforgettable misery that forced 185,000 people to flee homes in the potential path of the largest wildfire in county history and left 40% of the county coping without electricity during PG&E blackouts intended to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires during dry, windy weather.
Walt Frazer, who was allowed to return to his home near downtown Graton on Monday afternoon, regained electricity on Tuesday but remained without gas Thursday, preventing him and his wife from using their furnace and gas fireplace or taking a hot shower for the last three days.
Frazer said there was good deal of frustration and anger among Sonoma County residents dealing with the PG&E’s decision to shut down gas and electrical service. To people like him, Frazer said, PG&E’s attitude seems to be “let ‘em freeze in the dark.”
“Here’s a group of people, tens of thousands of people, who have been without power for the better part of a week and they’ve been trying to get their lives back together,” he said. “And then someone says, ‘Well, you have to be at home or we won’t hook you back up.’ We’ve been waiting for three days and nobody’s come yet.”
Turning on gas lines is more complex than restoring electricity, PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said.
Utility workers must visit each customer’s home or business, inspect the gas meter for leaks and clear lines of residual gas before restoring service and re-lighting pilot lights on gas-powered appliances.
Some customers may not have service restored until noon Monday, Contreras said. PG&E planned to deploy more than 500 workers - including PG&E crews and workers lending a hand from Southern California Gas and Southwest Gas - over the next several days to visit each customer’s home and restore gas service.
The gas outage affected homes and businesses in north and west Sonoma County, including people in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor, Larkfield, Wikiup, Forestville, Graton and some customers with Sebastopol addresses, according to PG&E.
The impact was exacerbated by cold temperatures blanketing the region. A frost advisory was in effect for North Bay valleys Thursday morning, and a freeze warning due to “several hours of subfreezing temperatures possible” was issued for 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Without gas to heat furnaces, many residents will have to resort to unusual measures.
How to stay warm during cold nights without gas, and in some cases without electricity as well, is “not a question for PG&E,” Contreras said. “You’ll have to ask the customer.”
Frazer’s solution: “Put on more clothes,” he said, “And then you stink.”
For Ann Hancock, a Graton resident and co-founder of the Climate Center in Santa Rosa, the gas came on around midday Thursday, ending a “horrible” run without the ability to cook or stay warm. Earlier this week, when her power was out, the pump on Hancock’s well would not work, so there were no showers hot or cold, and no flushing the toilet.
The lack of gas and electricity made her home feel “like camping out, only maybe worse because we weren’t equipped to do that,” Hancock said. “It basically makes the home uninhabitable, unless you get yourself under the covers and try to sleep through the whole thing.”
Contreras said PG&E was trying to restore gas service as soon as possible.
“We understand that it is cold outside,” Contreras said. “That’s why we’re working until 10 p.m., on Halloween, in full force.”
Contreras said PG&E had “touched every meter” in Cloverdale and restored gas to about 2,300 people there but hadn’t been able to contact everyone. The remaining 1,200 gas customers in the town, which was never under evacuation orders, will need to contact PG&E to schedule a time to re-light their pilot lights.
The same goes for customers elsewhere in Sonoma County who are not contacted immediately by PG&E’s gas restoration teams. Contreras said crews and contractors would leave door hangars with information for customers they can’t personally contact.
Contreras said PG&E was working Thursday to light pilot lights for about 300 customers in Geyserville and about 2,500 customers in the Forestville and Graton areas.
Crews would then work to restore gas to about 2,600 customers in the Larkfield/Wikiup area and about 9,400 Windsor customers, she said, though no Windsor customers were expected to have their pilot lights re-lit until Friday.
About 5,800 customers in Healdsburg lost gas service, but it was not clear when exactly PG&E crews would make their way there.
The number of people affected by the gas outages is far greater than 24,000 customers identified by PG&E. The average Sonoma County household has between two and three people sharing a housing unit.
You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @wsreports.
UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy: