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Facing critical fire danger, PG&E prepares to shut off power in Northern California

A firefighter sprays flames on the northwest flank of the August Complex fire in Trinity County on Sept. 22
A U.S. Forest Service firefighter sprays down flames on the northwest flank of the August Complex fire in Trinity County on Sept. 22.
(Mike McMillan / U.S. Forest Service)

Red flag warnings have been issued for much of Northern California from 9 p.m. Saturday through early Monday as hot and windy conditions raise concerns about new blazes in what is already the worst fire season in state history.

The warning covers an area from just above Redding, southeast into the Sierra foothills, parts of the Sacramento Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, including the North Bay mountains, East Bay hills and interior valleys.

David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, previously said that a large area of high pressure covering almost the entire West Coast is expected to build over the weekend. Temperatures could climb to 10 to 20 degrees above normal in some areas.

Officials said the forecast conditions — which include sustained winds, low humidity and summerlike temperatures — will make it easier for fires to both start and spread.

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That’s unwelcome news in an area of the state where crews are still working to contain some of the largest wildfires in California history.

Those include the North Complex fire northeast of Oroville, which has burned more than 304,000 acres and has become one of the state’s deadliest and most destructive ever. Containment on that blaze is at 78%.

The mammoth August Complex fire has charred a state-record 867,000-plus acres in and around the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests, southwest of Redding. That blaze was 38% contained as of Friday morning.

Pacific Gas & Electric may cut power to nearly 97,000 customers in 15 counties this weekend to reduce the danger of fire from power lines downed by wind.

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Utility officials said that a “public safety power shut-off” could be necessary as “hot and dry conditions, combined with expected high wind gusts, pose an increased risk for damage to the electric system that has the potential to ignite fires in areas with dry vegetation.”

The “potentially strong and dry offshore wind event” is expected to start early Sunday and last through Monday, according to PG&E.

As a result, the utility said outages may become necessary in parts of Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Kern, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama and Yuba counties.

PG&E previously said potential outages were expected to affect only about 21,000 customers in parts of Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties, but greatly expanded that “based on updated weather forecasts that showed stronger wind gusts in a larger portion” of its service area, according to a statement issued late Friday.


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