Pacific Gas & Electric expanded its power outages across Northern California to nearly 1 million customers, meaning well more than 2 million people are in the dark Sunday.
Customers struggling without electrical power could remain in the dark until Wednesday, the utility said Sunday.
PG&E has been shutting off power to residents to avoid fires sparked by electric lines. Sunday’s outages are by far the biggest such shut-offs, leaving many parts of the Bay Area, wine country, delta and Sacramento Valley under blackout conditions.
PG&E said that as of noon Sunday it had shut down power to 940,000 customers, which are defined as an electrical meter that serves a residence or business, utility spokeswoman Mayra Tostado said.
The blackouts are being conducted in seven phases, and so far the company has completed five of the phases, with two more to go over the next day.
The next outage will hit about 636 customers in Kern County. A seventh phase will hit additional customers in Frenso and Madera counties.
The blackouts started at 5 p.m. Saturday and will not end until the company determines the outage areas are free from dangerous wind conditions, she said. “We continue to monitor the weather,” she said. The current conditions are expected to continue through Monday, though if the wind subsides the utility could move more quickly to restore power.
Once the wind subsides, PG&E will send out thousands of electrical workers to visual inspect all the lines for possible damage before power can flow over them again. The company is bringing 1,000 electrical workers, part of mutual aid system, from out of state to assist with the inspections from as far away as Florida. All the crews will walk the lines and use helicopters and drones, she said.
The utility warns that it could take up to 48 hours after the winds subside to complete the inspections and reenergize the lines. Based on current weather forecasts, it means that customers could be out of power until sometime on Wednesday, after the winds subside and they issue an all clear to being the inspections.
“Some customers may see power back on sooner,” she said. Tostado said if the utility began inspections before the winds stop, it would just have to conduct a second inspection later.
They came as a new fire broke out in the Bay Area. It erupted near the Carquinez Bridge, which connects Contra Costa County to Vallejo in Northern California, and quickly spread south of the Carquinez Strait. Officials called an evacuation warning for all of Crockett, an unincorporated community of about 3,000 people on the northwestern edge of Contra Costa County. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the southern half of the town, south of Pomona Street.
Shutoffs are a relatively new and controversial strategy aimed at reducing the risk of fires triggered by electrical lines like the ones that caused the wine country and Paradise infernos. Also Saturday, about 90,000 more Sonoma County residents, from Healdsburg to Bodega Bay and the Pacific Coast, were ordered to evacuate.
The duration of the extreme wind event, known in the Bay Area as Diablo winds, was forecast to be roughly 36 hours, from Saturday evening around 8 p.m. into Monday morning, with isolated gusts of 65 mph to 80 mph in the highest peaks in the North Bay. On Sunday morning, wind gusts topped 93 mph near Healdsburg, which was being threatened by the massive Kincade fire in Sonoma County.
This is definitely an event that we’re calling historic and extreme,” said David King, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Monterey office, which manages forecasts for the Bay Area.
Not only will winds be bad, but the air will be quite dry — relative humidity levels are forecast to fall between 15% and 30%; anything in the teens and 20s is really dry, King said.