With deadly fires in Sonoma and Napa counties still raging, providers of phone and internet service are scrambling to restore communications, but in many cases being forced to wait.
Tens of thousands of people are without cell phone or internet service as a result of the catastrophic fires that started Sunday night, with 15 deaths reported by Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to be able to give our crews the right supplies and resources to go in there safely,” said Comcast spokeswoman Jenny Gendron. “We’re at the mercy if you will of the local authorities to give us the go-ahead. We’ve got people working around the clock who have not slept. As soon as they get the go-ahead to go in, we’re ready.”
About 38,000 Comcast customers were without service for internet and cable on Tuesday morning.
“Most of our lines are on poles,” Gendron said, adding that outages may have resulted from poles coming down or fiber cables melting from the heat of the blazes.
Seventy-seven cellular-services sites were damaged or knocked out by the fires, and a key cellular hub was damaged, said California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci. Repairs have been made to about 35 of the damaged sites.
“Communications is a top priority for us,” Ghilarducci said, adding that the National Guard was helping to augment communication capacities.
Widespread power outages contribute to loss of phone service because cell towers require electricity and smaller ones may have no generator or only an hour or two of supplemental power, said David Witkowski, a telecommunications expert with Silicon Valley Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to promoting collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship.
Gendron said Comcast was making its XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots — located indoors and outdoors in shopping districts, parks and businesses — available for free to the public…