Schools and businesses impacted by public safety power shutoffs in Central California

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Students were supposed to return to classrooms across Sierra Unified School District for their first day of in-person learning Monday, but instead there was no instruction on campuses or online because of outages that continued into Tuesday afternoon.

The Superintendent says the majority of students in his district will have their first day of in-person classes Wednesday with all the required precautions in place. He believes some children in the area need the emotional support that comes from being around one another more than ever and is proud of everything his staff members have overcome to make that possible.

The owner of Prather's Pizza Factory is thankful to be serving customers again after the public safety power shutoff kept his restaurant closed on Monday. The loss of revenue is just the latest in a series of hurdles the business has had to overcome, including COVID restrictions and the devastating Creek Fire.

"It has been a challenge, and our biggest challenge right now is we lost over half, I'd say 65 percent of our staff, which is about 25 people to the fire due to the smoke or burned out homes and stuff like that," says Dan Barkume.

Some former evacuees just recently had power restored to their homes only to lose it again because of concerns that high winds and low humidity put the area at risk of another fire. About 1,300 customers in Fresno and Madera counties remained without electricity. through Tuesday morning, including Betsy Griffin.

"We had a bathtub full of water so we used that for the necessary things, and the refrigerator we just didn't open it," Griffin explains.

After the winds had subsided, PG&E crews started surveying their power lines.

By Tuesday afternoon, the utility company had identified 36 instances of damage or hazards to electric equipment statewide and were working to make repairs.

PG&E Fresno Division spokesman Denny Boyles says, "I know we had 65 helicopters flying system-wide for this event, we have a fixed-wing aircraft, we have hundreds of crew on the ground."

Boyles says the company has been working to make outages shorter and smaller than in 2019, while providing much more information before, during, and after they occur.

He explains, "One of the key elements was our website. Our website crashed last year, it just wasn't ready for the traffic. We fixed that; we've come nowhere near the capacity of the website this year."

Residents we spoke with say they're thankful for the advance notice they received and are hopeful that the greatest trials of 2020 are now behind them.

Barkume says, "We're surviving, we'll get through this. It's been tough, but I know it's going to get better. It can't get any worse, so that's the good thing."
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