A pair of power surges that sounded like explosions in an underground Pacific Gas & Electric transformer and a subsequent fire rocked downtown Sonoma Tuesday night, leaving thousands briefly without power and shutting down business for the night at nearby restaurants.
The incident occurred at around 8:50 p.m. Tuesday night as PG&E crews were working to restore power to 3,300 customers who'd been without electricity since around 5 p.m. due to an outage, according to PG&E spokesperson Brittany McKannay.
As the workers turned the power back on at the transformer, the equipment couldn't handle the surge and a "power flash," or an arc caused by a shorted-out power line, occurred, McKannay said.
"Technically, it's not an explosion, but people have described it that way," McKannay said.
Flames began shooting up from the underground transformer six to eight feet into the air, according to Aaron Curley, the manager at the Girl and the Fig restaurant, outside which the transformer is located. Curley said he was inside the restaurant when the "pair of explosions" occurred, and he rushed through the outdoor patio to see what had happened.
Spotting the flames shooting into the air, Curley pointed one of the restaurant's fire extinguishers at the blaze. El Dorado Kitchen chef Armando Navarro also helped tamp down the fire, and PG&E workers who were already on the scene to restore power extinguished the blaze as well, Curley said.
Sonoma Fire crews responded to the scene but the fire was out when they arrived, according to battalion chief Mark Freeman.
"People were screaming, chaos abound, especially because it was just after the farmers market closed," Sonoma resident Christy Power said.
With his filled-to-capacity restaurant entirely in the dark and on the heels of two explosion sounds and a fire, the Girl and the Fig immediately began escorting patrons out of the restaurant safely, most of whom hadn't finished their meals, Curley said.
"There was plenty of food left on the tables and food that was about to come out of the kitchen that never got served," Curley said. "And then we closed for the night."
McKannay said that power was restored to all by 100 PG&E customers in the area by 9:15 p.m., and that the remaining customers had their power back by 9 am. Wednesday.
Curley said business at the Girl and the Fig had returned to usual Wednesday despite a swarm of PG&E trucks on scene to repair the damage.