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Utility shuts off power to prevent wildfires as red flag warnings return to California

Utility shuts off power to prevent wildfires as red flag warnings return to California
High fire weather conditions are forecast for Northern California on Sunday and Monday. (National Weather Service)

Extreme fire-weather conditions prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to shut off power to thousands of customers in Northern California ahead of strong winds forecast in the region on Sunday night.

B​y late Sunday, the utility had shut off power to more than 17,000 customers in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties. An additional 42,000 customers in the Sierra foothills lost power in the counties of Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras.

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Other counties that could also come under power outages are Butte, Sierra, Placer, Nevada, Plumas and Yuba.

The move is part of a strategy by utilities across California to reduce the risk of wildfires sparked by utility lines that break during extreme winds. Many of California’s most destructive fires — including several that raced through wine country last year — were attributed to power lines.

Other utilities including San Diego Gas & Electric have shut off power during extreme winds in local areas, but the PG&E warning covers a vast area of Northern California — mainly in the Sierra foothills and the North Bay.

“We have made the decision to turn off power as a last resort given the extreme fire danger conditions these communities are experiencing,” Pat Hogan, senior vice president of electric operations, said in a statement.

Gusty winds are forecast in the hills of the Bay Area, coming in from the land and headed west toward the ocean, through noon Monday. Wind gusts in the higher elevations of the North Bay could reach as high as 70 mph in the overnight hours into Monday.

“Critical fire weather conditions will continue in the North Bay Mountains and East Bay Hills through Monday morning due to a combination of strong, gusty offshore winds and low relative humidity,” the National Weather Service in Monterey said.

California’s largest utilities are spending huge sums to improve their power system to better withstand winds.

Southern California Edison is asking the state for permission to spend $582 million on improvements, including strengthening poles and using better technology to determine when winds put the power grid at risk.

A text message sent out Saturday night by Alameda County warned of potential shut off electricity due to high fire weather danger.
A text message sent out Saturday night by Alameda County warned of potential shut off electricity due to high fire weather danger. (Los Angeles Times)

PG&E asked customers to learn whether their home or business is in or near a high fire-threat area on the California Public Utilities Commission Fire-Threat District map. It also asked customers to update their contact information at pge.com/mywildfirealerts or by calling (866) 743-6589 during normal business hours.

These are the places that PG&E said were at risk of power being turned off Sunday night:

  • Lake County (Clearlake, Clearlake Oaks, Clearlake Park, Cobb, Finley, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Lakeport, Lower Lake, Middletown)

  • Napa County (Angwin, Calistoga, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Napa, Pope Valley, Saint Helena)

  • Sonoma County (Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa)

  • Butte County (Berry Creek, Brush Creek, Clipper Mills, Feather Falls, Forbestown, Oroville)

  • Sierra County (Alleghany, Downieville, Goodyears Bar, Pike City, Sierra City)

  • Placer County (Alta, Applegate, Auburn, Baxter, Colfax, Dutch Flat, Emigrant Gap, Foresthill, Gold Run, Loomis, Meadow Vista, Weimar)

  • Nevada County (Chicago Park, Grass Valley, Nevada City, North San Juan, Penn Valley, Rough and Ready, Soda Springs, Washington)

  • El Dorado County (Aukum, Camino, Coloma, Cool, Diamond Springs, El Dorado, Fair Play, Garden Valley, Georgetown, Greenwood, Grizzly Flats, Kelsey, Kyburz, Mount Aukum, Omo Ranch, Pacific House, Placerville, Pollock Pines, Shingle Springs, Silver Fork, Somerset, Strawberry, Twin Bridges)

  • Amador County (Fiddletown, Jackson, Pine Grove, Pioneer, Plymouth, Sutter Creek, Volcano)

  • Plumas County (La Porte)

  • Calaveras County (Glencoe, Mokelumne Hill, Mountain Ranch, Rail Road Flat, West Point, Wilseyville)

  • Yuba County (Brownsville, Camptonville, Challenge, Dobbins, Marysville, Oregon House, Strawberry Valley)

Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.

Oct. 15, 6:15 a.m.: This was updated to reflect power shut off in parts of the Sierra foothills.

Oct. 14, 9:55 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that PG&E started shutting off power to customers.

Oct. 14, 7:05 p.m.: Updated with details on the decision by PG&E to shut off power to about 87,000 customers in Northern California.

Oct. 14, 8:50 a.m.: Updated with more details on fire, power line risk.

This article was originally published on Oct. 13 at 11:24 p.m.

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