Mystery outage knocks out power in Cambria and Cayucos

Power went out to thousands of customers in Cambria early Monday morning.
Power went out to thousands of customers in Cambria early Monday morning. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

PG&E customers from San Simeon to northern Cayucos lost power for about seven hours early Monday, according to a representative of the utility company.

Spokesman John Lindsey said electrical service went out throughout the area at 12:46 a.m., affecting 4,845 accounts. Power was restored at 7:40 a.m.

Frequently, when electrical service goes out on the densely forested North Coast, it’s because a tree or limb fell onto a power line during a storm. That was not the case this time, but determining the cause for this weird outage is proving to be tricky.

Lindsey said crews went up and down the lines that night and tracked the system, but found no equipment failures. The linemen “did some switching and backfilled” the electricity from one North Coast substation area to another, and “apparently that’s when the power came back on.”

He said it’s still not known if there was a link between a planned overnight outage for repairs in San Simeon and the larger interruption in service.

By Tuesday afternoon, the linemen were telling Lindsey that the possible cause of the outage was “a bad jumper or voltage regulator.” By late afternoon, he still hadn’t been told where that faulty equipment had been.

However, when Alex de Alba of Cambria was driving home about 1 a.m. Monday, he saw a spot fire around a power pole in the area between San Geronimo Creek and Villa Creek. He pulled over and called 911.

PG&E officials told Lindsey on Tuesday that “absolutely no fire was linked to the outage” in Cambria and northern Cayucos.

According to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Zach Nichols, crews took the call at 12:53 a.m. Monday. Firefighters extinguished the small fire in less than an hour.

Cayucos Fire Department firefighters reported to Assistant Chief Howard Sanford that the small blaze was “burning very slowly between the road and a plowed field, with no potential to go anywhere.”

De Alba said when he saw the site again in daylight, he realized that the farming area had recently been prepared for planting, and that the freshly turned dirt may have helped to keep the fire small.

Apparently, no investigator was available to officially determine the cause of the fire. But Nichols said that, by the process of elimination, the electrical equipment on the pole could have been the cause, perhaps a faulty transformer or a fuse.

“The lines were intact. It wasn’t windy,” he said. “There were no trees around, nothing was around the area. The fire was close to the pole,” rather than mid-span where lines can arc together in high winds.

During the power outage, some customers also noted that their AT&T and Charter cellular and cable service had gone out, which created extra worries due to high wildfire risk during the hot, dry weather.

Social media posters who ventured outside that night to check for fire, wind gusts or other potential causes said later how eerie the warmer-than-usual, dark-of-night scene had been, with virtually no wind and a waning moon that left the setting quite dark and extremely quiet.

And, as one commuter-to-SLO posted after she missed her early-morning, alarm-clock wake-up call, the outage made “Monday even more Monday-ey.”

For 20 years, Phillip Ehorn has brought beloved but broken timepieces back to life as horologist at Once Upon a Tyme in Cambria.