Lights out: PG&E blackout hits Berkeley

“Our power is out now in the Berkeley hills. Here’s a view of our dark neighborhood, with city lights below illuminating the smoke drifting in from the Kincade fire,” Oct. 26, 2019. Photo: Sharon Gamson Danks

Update, 1 a.m. PGE’s outage map was a patchwork of colors early Sunday morning, showing 37 outages in Berkeley affecting nearly 6,800 customers. According to the map, the outages were largely concentrated in the Berkeley Hills as well as the Elmwood neighborhood. See the live map.

Original story, Saturday, 10:06 p.m. Scattered reports of power loss began a couple of hours after PG&E’s blackout was expected to hit Berkeley on Saturday night.

By 9:45 p.m., a few residents on Peralta Avenue, Euclid Avenue and in the Claremont neighborhood — three distinct parts of the city — said their lights were out. However, PG&E’s online map indicated the Claremont outage was unintentional — not part of the scheduled “public safety power shutoff” set to blanket Northern California on Saturday. The other reported outages weren’t immediately reflected on the map at all, but PG&E’s online information has frequently been delayed.

Soon several reports came in from other areas, including many from Grizzly Peak Boulevard and throughout the Berkeley Hills. Within an hour after the blackouts began, residents noted an eerie darkness had spread across the eastern part of the city.


“All of the Berkeley hills, as wide as I can see from the flats, is pitch black,” said Scott Stanfield on Twitter at 10:27 p.m.

The city of Berkeley has said 7,000 PG&E customers — an estimated 21,000 people — could ultimately lose electricity in the city. PG&E most recently said the Alameda County outages would start at 8 p.m.

Around 8:45 p.m. a PG&E worker stationed in the Southside neighborhood told Berkeleyside’s Emilie Raguso that outages had already begun in some Alameda County cities, but he expected his spot to be one of the last to go out. Raguso rode along with a Berkeley police officer Saturday night to check out the impacts of the outages across Berkeley and see how the city was responding. The PG&E crew member told her the utility was trying to whittle down the outage locations and could decide to keep some areas turned on at the last minute.

nighttime view of Berkeley
The view from Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley around 8:30 p.m. The sun had set but plenty of lights were still on. Photo: Emilie Raguso
a dark street with some lights on
Berkeley’s scattered blackouts affected one side of Garber Street — but not the other — Saturday evening. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Across the entire Bay Area, 246,000 customers could be left in the dark this weekend, PG&E reported during a media briefing Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Alameda County is part of a third wave of blackouts rolling through Northern California on Saturday evening. Several counties began losing power at 5 and 6 p.m. In total, electricity could be shut off for close to 1 million customers throughout 36 counties — more than half of the counties in the state.

The utility has said dry heat and strong winds, forecast to begin around midnight in the East Bay, could make for a perilous cocktail. Already fires are raging in Sonoma County and locally the hills are particularly vulnerable. PG&E said other affected Berkeley neighborhoods might not be fire-prone themselves, but are connected to power lines in more risky areas.

Bay Area winds are expected to reach 35-45 miles per hour with gusts of 55-65 miles per hour, PG&E said during the Saturday evening press briefing. The winds are expected to subside Sunday morning, but will continue through the day. A wind advisory is in effect through 11 a.m. Monday. Power restoration won’t start until 8 a.m. that day and could take time, PG&E has said.

PG&E will set up a Community Resource Center in the south parking lot of UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr Campus, according to an email from City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf to her constituents. The address is listed as the intersection of Parker Street and Piedmont Avenue, which is a block away from Clark Kerr. However, the only resource centers listed on the utility’s website for Alameda County are in Hayward and Oakland. Those centers will have seating for 100 people, air conditioning, device charging stations, bottled water, restrooms, coffee and dry food, PG&E said.

PG&E was blasted during a previous shutoff earlier this month for providing inconsistent and inaccessible information, and the criticism continued Saturday as the utility repeatedly changed the expected outage start times.

The company has said start times are dependent on unpredictable weather patterns. Mark Quinlan, senior director of emergency preparedness and response, said during the media briefing that he didn’t want to cut power “to anyone earlier than I absolutely have to.”

PG&E had also long told customers in the Berkeley outage zone that the utility “may need to” turn off power at their addresses. By 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the online address finder and texts to customers were newly saying those locations would definitively lose power.

In the briefing, PG&E said even more outages could be coming next week. Representatives said the expected major wind events pose extraordinary safety hazards, with gusts likely to knock down or interfere with electrical equipment. Meanwhile, critics like Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed the utility for neglecting the maintenance of that equipment.

Berkeleyside will be on duty Sunday to report outage impacts as they happen.

More resources

See full outage coverage on Berkeleyside. Senior reporter Emilie Raguso contributed to this story, which was updated with new information after publication. Only the most recent update is listed individually at the top.