ENVIRONMENT
10/15/2018 07:05 pm ET

California Braces For Wildfires With Forced Power Outages

About 60,000 people in Northern California have been without power since Sunday night.

Tens of thousands of Californians have been going without power since Sunday as part of a utility company’s new effort to lower wildfire risk during windy, hot and dry conditions. 

Pacific Gas & Electric disconnected power Sunday night for about 60,000 customers across Northern California that were at an extreme fire risk, including Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties north of San Francisco, and Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Placer counties in the Sierra foothills.

In total, nearly 100,000 residents were warned that power loss was a possibility due to wind speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and gusts of up to 70 mph, which were heightening the risk of electric fires. 

Seventy percent of those who lost power can expect to regain it by midnight Monday, but future shutoffs are a possibility as the fire-prone regions continue to experience the types of weather conditions that fueled catastrophic fires in the past year. 

“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is PG&E’s top priority,” said Pat Hogan, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations. “We know how much our customers rely on electric service and only considered temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety, and as a last resort during extreme weather conditions.”

The first-time move by PG&E comes weeks after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a contentious piece of legislation that lets the utility use a state-authorized bond to pay off the 200-plus lawsuits it’s facing in connection with last year’s fires, so long as the company acted reasonably in maintaining its equipment before the fires.

But residents and small businesses affected by the power outage expressed some frustration to local media outlets that PG&E hasn’t maintained its power lines, such as by trimming back trees that grow near them.

“There’s a feeling that this is because PG&E didn’t take care of what needed to be taken care of in the past, and now we’re having to pay the price for that,” Celine Negrete, the manager of an independent movie theater in Nevada City affected by the power outage, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s what I’m hearing on social media really loudly.”

PG&E’s power lines and other infrastructure have proved to be major wildfire risk factors. According to a report released by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, a dozen blazes in the swarm of deadly fires north of San Francisco in the fall of 2017 were ignited by power lines coming into contact with trees or by other utility system malfunctions.

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