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Stanislaus County appears to avoid PG&E’s fire-safety outages; foothills feel wrath

Some Stanislaus County residents braced for power outages Wednesday night as part of Pacific Gas & Electric power shutoffs — a proactive measure to avoid wildfires caused by anticipated high winds that could damage equipment.

As of 8:30 p.m., the county seemingly had avoided major impacts from the outages that left hundreds of thousands of California residents — many of them in the nearby Sierra foothills — in the dark.

PG&E had 1,088 customers in Stanislaus on its list of counties with an “anticipated power shutoff start time” at 8 p.m. They included Westley, where an employee at Joe’s Travel Plaza reported that the outage had not yet happened as of 8:30 p.m.

Most county residents were unaffected as they receive their power from the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts. MID serves Modesto, Salida, Riverbank and surrounding areas. TID covers Turock, Ceres, parts of the West Side and several other areas.

In addition to Westley, Modesto-area residents most vulnerable to the shutoff were expected to be PG&E users in Grayson, Patterson, Oakdale, Knights Ferry, La Grange, Modesto, Riverbank, Newman, Vernalis and Tracy, according to Fire Warden Richard Murdock and PG&E.

Murdock, director of the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services, provided a list Wednesday morning of the number of PG&E customers anticipated to be included in the outages:

  • Modesto: 1
  • Westley: 422
  • Grayson: 278
  • Newman: 190
  • Patterson: 149
  • Oakdale: 113
  • Vernalis: 76
  • Tracy: 30
  • Knights Ferry: 14
  • La Grange: 4
  • Riverbank: 1

But residents of River Cove in Riverbank reportedly received a text from PG&E midmorning that the entire neighborhood would be affected.

Shortly after 8 a.m., TID posted on Facebook, “It’s getting windy outside and although TID is not part of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs, winds can cause outages. If your power goes out, call our 24 hour Emergency line to report it at 209-883-8301.”

Should MID customers lose power, they’re asked to call 209-526-8222.

Thousands of customers in the foothills were impacted, including those in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

In the Mother Lode, the Union Democrat reported that power was off for about 58,000 customers in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties Wednesday evening.

John K. Osbourn, the Calaveras OES director, told the news organization that “The decision to turn off the power and the speed at which it is restored is planned and managed solely by PG&E. Citizens are strongly urged to prepare for being without power for several days.”

Power was cut off along Highway 4 around 4 p.m., according to mymotherlode.com.

PG&E was operating a community resource center Wednesday during daylight hours at the Westley Hotel, 8615 Highway 33. It provided restrooms, bottled water, electronic-device charging and air-conditioned seating for up to 100 people.

Stanislaus County opened a resource center in Oakdale at the library, 151 S. First Ave. It was scheduled to close at 6 p.m., but would reopen Thursday and Friday if needed, said Royjindar Singh, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services.

Initial outages were to occur at 9 a.m., but were delayed until noon and then later in the Stanislaus County area.

At Joe’s Travel Plaza off Interstate 5 in Westley, customer-service manager Michelle Carson said the business had a generator so it would be able to keep food and drinks cold, run cash registers and operate the gas pumps.

Once the power went off, though, she said there wouldn’t be running water for restrooms, showers and laundry — a big inconvenience for the 1,200 to 1,500 truckers and travelers who pull into Joe’s every day, she said. That’s because the pump is not on the generator. Carson said the pump also serves the Denny’s and Dickey’s restaurants.

As the clock ticked past noon, and power remained on, Carson expressed frustration about the process.

“They are worried about getting lawsuits because of all the people killed in the fires last year,” she said. “Well look at all the people you’re putting out of business. Look at the homes that have elderly and small children. It’s frustrating ...

“This morning I got a call from (Stanislaus County). They told me the power was going to be going out between nine and noon. So far they haven’t shut our power off.”

Singh said he was expected to get updates regarding the impact to Stanislaus County later Wednesday evening.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, PG&E said portions of 34 counties will be affected by the power shutoff. It expected outages to communities to come in stages, depending on local timing of the anticipated severe wind conditions. First counties affected were in the northern part of the state.

PG&E said it anticipates the weather event would last through midday Thursday, with peak winds forecast from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 40 to 55 mph. The National Weather Service predicted wind gusts in the Modesto area of 30 to 35 mph.

According to the MID website, winds reached the high teens.

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