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PG&E warns of power outages as high winds, extreme heat roll into Northern California

A PG&E worker clears a power line blocking a roadway in unincorporated Napa County on Aug. 20.
A Pacific Gas & Electric Co. worker clears a power line blocking a roadway in unincorporated Napa County on Aug. 20.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Fierce Diablo winds are expected to kick up in Northern California this week, bringing an increased fire risk to the burn-scarred region and prompting Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to prepare for potential power shutoffs in parts of 43 counties, utility officials warned.

A swath of the Sierra Nevada reaching as far south as the Santa Cruz mountains could see power outages beginning Wednesday, according to PG&E.

Two dangerous wind events are expected this week — the first starting Wednesday afternoon or evening and stretching into Thursday morning and the second developing Thursday evening and running through Friday morning, forecasters said.

On Monday morning, the National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for late Tuesday through Friday morning, predicting the strongest gusts from the first wind event would hit overnight Wednesday into Thursday. The greatest threat is in the mountains of northeastern Napa and Sonoma counties, where the destructive Glass fire is still raging, according to the weather service.

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“Any fires that start will likely spread rapidly due to a combination of dry fuels, breezy northerly winds and low humidity,” forecasters said.

In anticipation of the winds, PG&E announced that power could be shut off Wednesday through Friday to parts of the following counties: Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra and Yuba.

Portions of 24 other counties — Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Benito, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Trinity, Yolo, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tulare and Tuolumne — could experience shutoffs for a shorter span, utility officials said.

The shutoffs likely will not affect entire counties, PG&E said, noting that widespread outages in the Bay Area are not anticipated.

The agency says the areas with the highest probability for shutoffs are the northern Sierra foothills; the mid and higher elevations of the Sierra, generally north of Yosemite; the northern Bay Area mountains near Mt. St. Helena; small pockets in the east Bay Area near Mt. Diablo; the Oakland Hills east of Piedmont; the elevated terrain east of Milpitas around Calaveras Reservoir; and parts of the Santa Cruz and Big Sur mountains.

PG&E said California investigators were looking at its equipment as a possible cause of a fire that killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The utility giant has agreed to pay $25.5 billion to settle damage claims from an earlier series of deadly fires blamed on its equipment and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter over the 2018 Camp fire in Northern California, the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.

The company has vowed to overhaul its operations and place a greater focus on safety in an effort to avoid sparking another catastrophic fire. But it is now under scrutiny for its potential involvement in the deadly Zogg fire. California investigators are looking at the company’s equipment as a possible cause of the blaze, which has killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has taken some of the utility’s equipment in its investigation, PG&E said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The utility filed a preliminary report on the incident with state regulators and said in a statement that it was cooperating with investigators. Cal Fire has yet to determine the cause of the blaze.

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After a brief reprieve of cool temperatures over the weekend, Southern California is expected to get hit with another heat wave this week that could bring periods of elevated fire risk, according to forecasters.

Temperatures are expected to climb throughout the week across the state, with some parts of the Central Valley nearing record highs, according to the National Weather Service. Dry winds gusting up to 30 mph are expected to sweep across the Sacramento Valley starting Monday.

“A warming and drying trend will then take place this week as high pressure builds in across the state,” PG&E officials said in a statement, estimating gusts at or above 50 mph in the mountains of the north Bay Area and the northern Sierra.

Northern California has been scorched by historic wildfires this year, with 4 million acres already burned. The August Complex, the biggest fire in state history, is still burning in the Mendocino National Forest, with 75% containment as of Monday morning, according to Cal Fire.

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Parts of the region are already under an elevated fire risk with above-average temperatures and windy conditions. Air quality alerts remain in effect throughout the San Joaquin Valley and across Central California due to nearby wildfires, the National Weather Service’s forecast center in Hanford reported.

National Weather Service meteorologist David King said the winds were building in the northeast and blowing offshore, leaving warm temperatures and dried fuel in their wake. The winds are expected to be strongest at high elevations in the North Bay Mountains, the East Bay Hills and the Santa Cruz Mountains, King said.

“We’ll still see winds that will make it down to the valleys, but it won’t be very strong or in excess,” he said. “Where you get the high fire concerns are when you have high winds in place. That’s really going to remain right now in the higher elevations.”

Temperatures in the Los Angeles area are expected to reach sweltering highs this week, too, with areas of the San Fernando Valley nearing 100 degrees. Beaches will hover in the 80s, weather service meteorologist Mike Wofford said. A heat advisory for much of the region is expected to go into effect at 11 a.m. Tuesday and continue until 5 p.m. Friday, according to the weather service.

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“It’s just going to be hot and dry, not our usual morning low clouds and fog,” Wofford said.


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