Spoiled food. Empty shops. Sierra foothill towns wait ‘in the dark’ for PG&E to restore power

Closed gas stations. Packed resource centers. Spoiled food.

And this might be just the beginning.

Thousands of residents in the Sierra Nevada foothills entered their third day without power on Monday, the result of a massive blackout impacting nearly 1 million PG&E customers in Northern California. PG&E said it had begun restoring power to some north state customers on Monday, but warned it would launch another round of shutoffs Tuesday, when strong winds are forecast to return to the region.

That next round of blackouts would likely last into Wednesday, meaning rural communities could be without power for at least five days as a result of PG&E’s so-called “public safety power shutoffs.” The blackouts are a precaution against the state’s high wildfire risk; PG&E equipment has been blamed for igniting several devastating fires.

On Monday, dozens of people filled a resource center operated by PG&E in Placerville; an overflow parking lot was filled with cars. But the rest of the town was mostly quiet: Gas stations and restaurants were dark, traffic lights were flashing and strip malls that are normally bustling on a weekday afternoon were empty.

Christina Gonzalez-Bradley and her four children were going on the third night in a row without power in their Placerville home.

“The food is the hardest thing,” said Gonzalez-Bradley, 31. Her fridge full of groceries went bad, so she’s left to feeding her family with fast food, which gets expensive.

The past few days have been especially difficult because her 10-year-old son, Arian, has autism, and will only eat certain foods she’s been unable to prepare for him without power.

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The four went to the crowded PG&E resource center on Monday to charge their devices and get out of the house. They got the last seats available at the plastic white tables set up with outlets and snacks.

An estimated 75 people had gone to the Placerville resource center as of 1:30 p.m. Monday, a PG&E employee said, lining up for snacks, flashlights and cell phone chargers. On Sunday, about 55 showed up the whole day.

“At this point we’re gonna have to buy a generator soon,” Gonzalez-Bradley said. “A small one is all we can afford.”

Many fast-food restaurants in the Placerville area were closed Monday afternoon, making it even harder for families like the Gonzalez-Bradleys.

Some remained open though.

Nancy Stone, owner of Main Street Melters in downtown Placerville, said the sandwich shop hasn’t lost power this time, but did during another PG&E shutoff earlier this month. It cost her $1,000 to rent a generator for two days.

“I wasn’t going to disappoint my community,” Stone said. “I didn’t want anybody to go hungry.”

Losing food is a major concern for Enswida Roflox-Musci, 67, of Placerville. She lost $250 worth of groceries she had purchased to feed herself and the two grandsons she cares for.

“I’m retired, I don’t have that much money,” she said.

She and her grandsons – along with their four dogs – stayed with her sister in Rancho Cordova on Sunday night.

“I’m worried about fire,” she said. “I don’t want my dogs to get burned.”

The next day, she took her 18-year-old grandson Kie Portier to the center Monday so he could do his government homework.

“We’re just waiting in the dark,” she said.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.