Pacific Gas & Electric has raised its estimate of the number of people in Northern California who will have to go without electricity Saturday night in the hope of preventing high winds from downing live power lines and sparking fires.
PG&E plans to preemptively cut-off power to some 940,000 customers in 36 counties, officials tweeted Saturday morning. That’s up 90,000 from the company’s previous estimate.
Power will stop flowing to some customers as early as 2 p.m., with hot, dry, windy conditions expected to effect service throughout the weekend, officials said. The utility warned that power could be shut off for at least two days, depending on wind conditions.
“Before restoring power, PG&E must inspect its equipment for damage and make any necessary repairs,” the utility said in a statement. “That process cannot begin until the severe weather event has subsided. Given the prolonged period during which the wind event will unfold, and the large number of power line miles that will need to be inspected before restoration, customers are being asked to prepare for an extended outage of at least two days once the severe weather has passed.”
Saturday’s announcement comes after the Kincade fire in Sonoma County grew overnight to 25,000 acres while firefighters struggled to get more control over the blaze before strong winds kicked up Saturday afternoon. Officials also expanded the evacuation zone in that county to include 50,000 more residents.
PG&E, which has 5.4 million electric customers and provides power to 16 million Californians, said earlier it was prepared to shut off power to more than 2 million people in the region over the weekend amid forecasts for one of the worst periods of fire weather.
“This system will likely be the strongest event of the year from a wind perspective,” the utility said on its website. “Federal forecast agencies are in alignment that this will be a high-risk weather event.”
The cause of the Kincade fire is still under investigation, but some suspicion is already turning to transmission lines owned by embattled PG&E. The utility said Thursday that one of its transmission lines experienced problems Wednesday night around the area where the fire broke out.
In a mandatory report sent to the California Public Utilities Commission, the company said one of its workers noticed that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had taped off the area. PG&E said Cal Fire also pointed out a “broken jumper on the same tower.”
PG&E had been shutting off power to residents to avoid fires sparked by electric lines.
There’s no guarantee a government entity would do a better job than Pacific Gas & Electric.
Deadly fires in recent years have heightened concerns in California about the impacts of climate change. The same shift is happening in Australia.
A brush fire in Riverside grew quickly to 70 acres, prompting brief evacuation orders for 25 homes before a shift in winds.
Downed power lines have been linked to disastrous, deadly wild fires in California in recent years.
Investigators blamed a downed PG&E line for the Camp fire last November, which burned more than 153,000 acres, destroyed 19,000 buildings and killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise.
Meanwhile, local police agencies and governments in the East Bay began sending strings of texts warning residents early Saturday when they would lose power. Each warning gave a different time. By Saturday, residents had been told their power would be out by 10 p.m. Saturday, then 8 p.m, 7 p.m. and finally 5 p.m. The times changed with each update in wind forecasts.
Moraga Hardware & Lumber told a local television station that it had been expecting to receive a new shipment of lanterns and batteries Saturday morning. The news spread on online neighborhood forums. Before 8 a.m., lines had formed at the store. Customers gladly paid $53.51 for a small battery-operated lantern and an 8 pack of “D” batteries.
The planned shutdown sparked plenty of grumbling about PG&E, but it was tempered by the knowledge that residents in Sonoma County and in Santa Clarita to the south were losing their homes, not just their electricity.
PG&E said power will be turned off to affected communities in phases. The times below are estimates and may change dependent on weather:
Phase 1 — 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 in portions of Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, Sierra, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama and Yuba counties.
Phase 2 — 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 in portions of Lake, Marin, Mendocino (south), Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.
Phase 3 — 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 in portions of Alameda, Contra Costa, Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus counties.
Phase 4 — 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 in portions of Alpine, Calaveras, Mariposa and Tuolumne counties.
Phase 5 — 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 in portions of Humboldt, Mendocino (north) and Trinity counties.
Phase 6 — 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 in portions of Kern County The power will be turned off to communities in stages, depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions.