'We Could Not Bathe or Keep Warm': Tales From the PG&E Power Shutoffs

Candlelight from a window in Oakland's Montclair neighborhood during a power shutoff on Oct. 10, 2019. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

PG&E initiated several large-scale power blackouts in October aimed at preventing its equipment from sparking potentially catastrophic wildfires amid critically dry and windy conditions.

The utility's power cuts, officially called public safety power shutoffs, left millions of Californians in the dark for days on end and without power for their medical devices, water heaters, refrigerators, stoves, electronic devices and more.

Some people were left in the cold, literally, and kids have missed days of school.

We asked for your stories, and here are some of them. We'll add more stories as we get them.

Bay Area

"I just lost my mother and have been making her arrangements in San Diego County while going through this power outage and the threat of another fire. Not only has my home been without power but my work was shut down, too, requiring me to commute 2.5 hrs each way to a sister location in Tracy.

"I'm in an area impacted by the '17 Nuns Fire in Glen Ellen. Having the challenges and inconveniences of no power, no hot water and no heat on 35-degree mornings and having to show up clean, dressed and fed for a workday in the midst of my grief has been compounded by not being able to find comfort at home. The traumatic reminders of smoke and wind like the wildfires we experienced previously has been a less-than-perfect storm." Mary, Glen Ellen in Sonoma County

"Our son and daughter-in-law were evacuated from Larkfield and are staying with us in Bennett Valley. We are without electricity. Their adorable 14-year-old cat, upset by the move, is now in intensive care at a local veterinary hospital due to kidney failure because he refused to eat or drink for three days in his unfamiliar surroundings. Joey means everything to them. He’s a rescue kitty with a charming, loving personality. We’re hoping for the best for him." Carole Robison, Santa Rosa in Sonoma County

Joey the cat before the PG&E power shutoffs in late October.
Joey the cat before the PG&E power shutoffs in late October. (Courtesy of Catherine Robison)

"Four days without power. Had no cell service for most of Sunday, so no ability to contact anyone without meeting them in person. Lost all food in the fridge and freezer. Though I'm a salaried employee, I'll likely have to use vacation time to get paid or go without pay — not helpful with property taxes coming due.

"Obvious inconvenience: huge crowds at local charging stations, extra time to get around town with no street lighting, low to no supplies at the few stores open.

"The bright spot: people have been amazing. I'm grateful to my city and county for trying to keep things running (through charging stations and other support services) as best they can under the circumstances. The county has done a great job in trying to provide communications to residents about events and next steps, certainly more communicative and timely than PG&E. All told, this cannot be the new normal." Kimberly Andrade, San Rafael in Marin County

Alecxander Cooper, 13, of Shingle Springs, does homework by headlamp in one of PG&E's power shutoffs in October.
Alecxander Cooper, 13, of Shingle Springs, does homework by headlamp in one of PG&E's power shutoffs in October. (Courtesy of Stacey Cooper)

Gold Country

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"Our kids have missed 7 days of school. We had no child care because our daycare provider had no power, so we were scrambling to find a family member that could watch them or we took the day off. We’re fortunate to have that choice and be minimally impacted. Oh — and we’re out for the $1,200 generator we had to buy to run the fridge so our food didn’t spoil." Heather, Placerville in El Dorado County

"At my age, 84, walking around in the dark with a flashlight was dangerous. My balance is mostly visual now. The house was strung with power cords that could trip me so I had to be careful.

"I did have fun getting our old generator back in operation. Had to spark the gen to get it delivering juice. Thank God for the internet that showed me how to do that (don't try this at home!!!).

"The horses didn't notice. Life always just keeps going on for them as long as they have feed and water. Not like humans who like to bitch about everything. Ah the fun and pleasure of country living."Mike Harper, Cool in El Dorado County

Judy Aquiline, a Sonoma local, sits in the candle-lit restaurant Reel and Brand in Sonoma on Oct. 9, 2019, during a planned power outage by the Pacific Gas & Electric utility company.
Judy Aquiline, a Sonoma local, sits in the candlelit restaurant Reel and Brand in Sonoma on Oct. 9, 2019, during a planned power outage by PG&E. (Brittany Hosea-Small/AFP via Getty Images)

"My mom is a dialysis patient who needs treatment three times a week. Due to no power at the dialysis clinic, she and 70 other patients had to scramble to find other dialysis centers that had availability. All of the open centers were at least an hour or more away.

"Several patients ended up at Marshall Hospital for treatment as they had no means of transportation to other dialysis centers, including residents from local skilled nursing facilities.

"Power was restored around midday at the Cameron Park dialysis center, so thankfully they were able to get some patients in for shorter treatments. Still, my mom was only able to get a two-hour treatment when normally she gets four hours .... It was a very stressful day for all involved." Kristin Beltran, Somerset in El Dorado County

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"Every bit of food in our refrigerator and freezer had to be thrown away. My husband is a contractor, so with every blackout he couldn't work because his jobs had no power. We could not bathe or keep warm. We are now trying to figure out how we will get caught up with our bills and fill our refrigerator again.

"Our dog has dementia. When it's dark, he gets sundowners so it started earlier in the day. Our phone was on a cheap plan but with no Wi-Fi we went through our data fast. So I had to up the phone plan, which will cost me now forever just so we had phones." Melanie, Shingle Springs in El Dorado County

"We've spent 35% of the month of October in the dark without running water or a source of heat. There were many mornings when we woke up and the house was 63 degrees or colder. My four children, ages 11, 9, 8, and 6 have missed six days of school this month due to no power.

"Not much can shut down our little mountain school, but when there is no generator to run the emergency systems, the cafeteria, and 50% of the school's buildings were either 38 degrees during class time or receive zero natural light for more than half the school day, there is no safe or possible way for students to attend.

"We returned to school on Oct. 25 and only 76% of our students made it in. Most of the students not in attendance had no idea that there was even school because they did not have the resources or means to be notified simply because our cellphone and internet services, and service areas without cell boosters, were almost non-existent." Annie Angelich, Camino in El Dorado County

These submissions have been edited for length and clarity.


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