Winds Blow In Weekend Blackouts

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High winds caused major problems for Berkeley residents this weekend, cutting off power to thousands of people and fueling a fire in the nearby hills.

Winds from a Saturday night storm carried into Sunday morning. By afternoon, 80,000 people were without power, said Jon Tremayne, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric.

In Berkeley, many local businesses closed down Sunday when their power went out.

"We lost power at around 12:30 p.m.," said Hank Potter, a staff member at the Hotel Durant. "We responded by making sure that all of our guests were safe and sound. We tried to get everyone who was inconvenienced at check-in taken care of by check-out."

Football fans watching the big screen TV at Kip's were stunned when the establishment went dark as the Buffalo Bills played the Minnesota Vikings.

"We were showing football games at the time," said Calvin Wong, an employee. "We waited around for the power to come back, but when it didn't, some people had to call all the way to Buffalo to try and get a play-by-play about the game."

The power stayed out for the entire afternoon, finally forcing the restaurant to close early.

"With no power, you can't do anything," Wong said.

In response to the widespread outages, PG&E crews were dispatched throughout the Bay Area. While some power outages could be remedied with simple procedures like changing fuses, others were the result of downed trees and tangled power lines, which took hours to resolve. By nightfall, 6,100 customers were still in the dark.

"A variety of things could take place, and each incident takes different amounts of time to fix," Tremayne said. "As an example, we had two crews working for 24 hours in an area where a large tree fell and took out our facilities."

As of yesterday, 85 PG&E customers were still without power.

Berkeley was one of several cities hit hard by the power outage, said David Orth, the assistant fire chief.

"The wind took down trees, which took down power lines," Orth said. "The power outages were varied, and because PG&E was trying to re-route power as the need came up, it was hard to actually track the outages. We only knew of individual blocks without power because of reports of downed trees."

The strong winds also knocked down trees, causing some damage and posing a threat to residents. In Petaluma, Calif., an 11-year-old boy was hit by a falling tree branch and died. Orth said Berkeley residents had reported downed awnings, and trees were still falling yesterday after the winds subsided. Public works crews were still trying to clear up trees blocking streets yesterday afternoon.

The strong winds also helped fuel a 10-acre fire along Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland Sunday.

While the blaze was subdued, it reminded many residents of the 1991 firestorm that devastated the area. Fire crews worked through the night to clear away brush that could reignite.

In an effort to aid Oakland crews, the Berkeley Fire Department sent two engine companies and a chief officer to the blaze in mid-afternoon, Orth said.


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