Just 6,700 PG&E customers still in the dark. ‘We are turning the corner,’ Gov. Newsom says

The lights were on this week at Blue Oak Elementary School in Shingle Springs. But the students and staff didn’t have Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to thank.

Blue Oak Elementary was opened with the help of a custodian who brought a generator from home to help bring power to the school on Monday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond visited the school Thursday to meet with administrators, staff and students who lost power due to PG&E’s power shutoff. Newsom said students told him they were excited by the extra time to read and play outside because of the power shutoff.

When he asked how many also experienced blackouts at home, all the students raised their hands.

“They weren’t only dealing with the anxiety and stress of coming into school under different circumstances and a different environment, but also back at home,” he said. “We had hundreds and hundreds of schools out and continue to have these outages that are impacting the education of our children. The good news is we are turning the corner.”

Number without power below 7,000

By early evening, PG&E officials were confident that they were close. By 5 p.m., all but 6,700 customers affected by the blackouts had electric power, said Mark Quinlan, a PG&E incident commander, in a news conference at the utility’s San Francisco headquarters. In all, power had been fully restored in 34 counties including Amador, Butte, Colusa, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo.

Utility crews were expected to return service “to everyone who can receive it” by the end of Thursday, Quinlan said. The only exception was in the footprint of the Kincade Fire, where crews were awaiting inspections of equipment before restoring service.

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Most customers were given the Public Safety Power Shutoff “all clear” by 10 a.m. Wednesday, but PG&E crews along with utilities from across the U.S., were working to energize power lines and restore service, officials said in an update late Thursday morning.

Power had already been restored to more than 328,000 customers before noon Thursday and crews were working to fully restore power in 12 counties – including El Dorado, Nevada, Placer and Yuba. In many of those counties, 90 percent of power has been restored.

PG&E CEO and president Bill Johnson, perhaps acknowledging the impacts of days of blackouts – he referred to them as “events” – across his utility’s vast service area, expressed gratitude Thursday.

“I come before you tonight a grateful person,” Johnson said. “These events haven’t been entirely popular, but we did it for one reason: to avoid devastating loss of life,” adding that PG&E “will continue to be a collaborative partner in combating wildfire.”

Cooler weather on the way

Meantime, thousands of others who returned to homes in Healdsburg, Windsor and other North Bay communities waited for crews to restore gas service as forecasters predicted more cold weather overnight.

National Weather Service forecasters issued a freeze warning from 2 to 9 a.m. Friday for much of Napa and Sonoma counties as temperatures were expected to drop into the upper 20s in some locations.

PG&E crews turned off gas Saturday to 24,600 customers in communities including Cloverdale, Geyserville, Forestville, Graton, Wikiup, Healdsburg and Windsor. By 5 p.m. Thursday, gas service was restored to about 3,000 customers, Quinlan said.

Buckeye Union School District Superintendent David Roth said three school sites were affected by power outages: Buckeye Elementary, Blue Oak Elementary and Camerado Middle School. Roth said the district learned over the weekend that the three schools in El Dorado County would be without power Monday.

“We swung into action to begin planning how we might open those sites, and our first consideration was would we be able to maintain student safety during that period of time,” Roth said.

Because the schools would not have functioning fire alarms during a power outage, the district brought in people to serve on “fire watch.”

Other staffers brought in massive amounts of pizza for students to eat at lunch. The generator brought in by the custodian kept the school’s phones working.

“We wanted to maintain the continuity of learning,” Roth said. “We also wanted to make certain we could minimize the hardship on families that needed to go to work.”

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.