'It's a gut punch:' Generator fire during PG&E power outage shuts down Mill Valley restaurant for two weeks

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- A Mill Valley restaurant owner is sharing a cautionary tale about the danger of backup generators, which so many businesses and home owners are using during PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

"So I saw a flame up in the corner, so I jumped on top this with the fire extinguisher. I put the flame out," said Paul Lazzareschi, describing how he saved his Mill Valley restaurant, Vasco, from complete destruction Monday morning.

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Lazzareschi figured out immediately that his new backup generator was to blame for the kitchen fire. "You can see right here where the exhaust was just hitting that wall and just heated this wall up until inside that wall, a fire started," he said pointing to his generator, which is setup in a service alley behind his restaurant on Bernard Street.

After last year's PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs put Lazzareschi out $35,000 when his restaurant was left dark for four nights, Lazzareschi decided to spend $7,000 to buy a new generator and have it professionally installed. "I honestly thought it would never happen again because I spent seven grand on a generator. It's kind of like you remember your umbrella and it's never gonna rain."

But with an extreme wind event hammering the North Bay, PG&E cut power to Lazzareschi's restaurant and 345,000 other customers Sunday night.

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"I was able to put on my generator and I was the only place in town with power, he said. "It was a success!"

Until it wasn't...

"Now, I'm shut down probably minimum two weeks," said Lazzareschi, since he'll have to go through inspections before getting his utilities turned back on and restaurant back up running. "I mean it's a gut punch after COVID."

Paul's employees are concerned, too, since they're now facing another two weeks out of work after seven months of a pandemic that has crushed the restaurant industry.

"I'm trying not to freak out too hard, but of course I'm worried. It's brutal," said Jesse Blue, who works at Vasco.

Since so many California businesses and home owners are now relying on backup generators during PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoffs, Lazzareschi offered up this advice: "Make sure it's outside and make sure there's a lot of room around it. Make sure the exhaust is not up against anything because it'll get hot and it can cause a fire."

Go here for the latest updates on the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs.
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