Newsletter: Fire danger and a massive power shutoff in Northern California

PG&E announced Tuesday that nearly 800,000 customers in Northern California would lose power starting just after midnight Wednesday.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Good morning, g’mar tov, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 9, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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Hundreds of thousands of Californians are likely to be without power by the time you read this, as power utilities partake in preemptive shutoffs during extreme fire danger.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Tuesday afternoon that nearly 800,000 customers in Northern California would lose power starting just after midnight Wednesday, in an unprecedented move as the company tries to avoid sparking wildfires in the hot, dry weather. The blackouts will affect 34 counties in Central and Northern California, including the Bay Area.


[Read the story: “Unprecedented power shutdown coming as winds bring critical fire danger” in the Los Angeles Times]

The company’s power lines caused last year’s Camp fire, which was the most lethal blaze in modern California history. Utility malfunctions were also tied to the deadly 2017 wine country blazes. (Those were private power lines, not PG&E’s.)

The planned shutoffs have brought their own controversy with, as reporter Joseph Serna writes, “some residents saying they create a whole new set of dangers as they try to watch for news about fires,” as well as concerns for those with health issues who rely on medical equipment.

[See also: “Major power shut-offs are new reality as California enters peak wildfire season” in the Los Angeles Times]

The outages also probably will not be brief: PG&E has to visually inspect and potentially repair equipment before restoring power, meaning that some areas could be without power for days.

The planned shutoffs brought a bit of pre-blackout frenzy in the Bay Area as harried shoppers stocked up on bottled water and canned food. The embattled utility’s website crashed for a time on Tuesday, as residents seeking information about possible blackouts flooded their servers.


Southern California Edison also announced Tuesday that power could be cut off to more than 106,000 customers in parts of eight Southern California counties. That possible outage would primarily affect utility customers in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Also under consideration are areas in Ventura County and portions of Kern, Tulare, Inyo and Mono counties.

More on the blackouts:

  • Cellphone service should continue in the Bay Area during the shutoffs, carriers say. San Francisco Chronicle
  • What BART expects will happen during shutoffs: No service disruptions are expected, but it’s likely escalators could be shut down at half a dozen locations. San Francisco Chronicle
  • Keep it or throw it out? What to do with refrigerated food during a power outage. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
  • If you need a place to go while the power is down, PG&E is opening Community Resource Centers starting Wednesday at 8 a.m. Here’s where they are. San Francisco Chronicle

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Los Angeles police officers search blacks and Latinos far more often than whites during traffic stops, even though whites are more likely to be found with illegal items, a Times analysis has found. The analysis, the first in a decade to calculate racial breakdowns of searches and other actions by LAPD officers after they pull over vehicles, comes amid growing nationwide scrutiny over racial disparities in policing. Los Angeles Times

Californians will for the first time have new safeguards against large rent increases after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Tuesday capping annual rent hikes for the next decade. The new protections come as high rents burden nearly 10 million tenants in California and major metropolitan regions have seen double-digit increases in their homeless populations. Los Angeles Times

Plus, wondering how California’s new rent cap will affect you? Here’s a Q&A explainer. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles could ban all e-cigarettes and vaping devices. A city councilman introduced the proposal at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. San Francisco passed a similar law earlier this year. Los Angeles Times

Major layoffs at L.A.’s top Asian American civil rights organization will affect thousands who rely on the nonprofit for everything from voting assistance to immigration services. LAist

CBS News will produce a short-form “60 Minutes” for Quibi. But instead of hourlong segments, each original weekly installment of “60 in 6” will be — you guessed it — six minutes long, because ... millennials. The program will launch in April. Los Angeles Times

Plus, why Netflix isn’t worried about the streaming wars. Los Angeles Times

Women film directors are finally seeing major gains in Hollywood after decades of stagnation. Variety

An former ICM agent is suing for defamation over rumors that he defecated on the floor of a bathroom of the agency’s New York office. The Hollywood Reporter

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein officially backed Joe Biden for president over her fellow California senator, Kamala Harris. Los Angeles Times

Californians will be able to register to vote on election day at local polling places and voting centers under legislation signed by Newsom. It’s a potentially significant step toward boosting turnout in key contests next year. Los Angeles Times


Federal agents raided four Southern California addiction treatment centers seeking evidence in a criminal probe. Orange County Register


Firefighting foam leaves a toxic legacy in Californians’ drinking water. Los Angeles Times

A great white shark left behind two teeth after biting into a man’s kayak off Catalina Island. Los Angeles Times


Silicon Valley astrophysicists are abandoning the heavens to help you decide what to wear and watch and listen to. Wired

Plans to widen Highway 99 through Tulare and parts of Madera County have been scrapped for now. Local representatives are calling the decision “another slap in the face” to the Central Valley. Visalia Times Delta

The history of the local citrus industry at a new park in Duarte. San Gabriel Valley Tribune

These are the worst theme park rides to be stuck on when they break down. It’s a lot easier to evacuate from the Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean than a roller coaster 80 feet in the air. Pasadena Star-News

Instagrammers have overrun Bay Area pumpkin patches, and the autumnal influencers are sometimes at odds with the casual pumpkin pickers. SF Gate

A brave reporter tried all 18 new foods at the Big Fresno Fair, so you don’t have to. This includes a cotton candy burrito made from cotton candy stuffed with ice cream and Fruity Pebbles cereal. Fresno Bee

How Hollywood films informed Ronald Reagan’s worldview: “There were ramifications for everyone if President Reagan happened to see, for instance, Rocky IV over the weekend.” BookForum

A Pico Rivera-based “indoor” cat was stuck in a 90-foot palm tree for nearly two weeks before plummeting to the ground during an attempted rescue. This story feels like it should be an allegory for, well, something, but is, in fact, just the facts. Mikey, the 1-year-old tabby in question, survived the fall seemingly unharmed. Whittier Daily News


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 74. San Diego: sunny, 70. San Francisco: sunny, 71. San Jose: sunny, 75. Sacramento: windy, 77. More weather is here.


“It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

— -Raymond Chandler

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.