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Power shut-offs coming tonight in Northern California as winds pick up

Utility employees work on a power pole lying on the ground in a burned area
PG&E workers disassemble broken power lines after the Camp fire ripped through Paradise, Calif., in November 2018.
(Joel Angel Juarez / Zuma Press)

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will turn the power off Wednesday evening in some areas of 24 counties across Northern California, where winds are expected to whip through and increase the risk of wildfires.

Winds from the northeast had already started to pick up Wednesday morning, drying out acres of vegetation. The region could see sustained winds of 15 to 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph, in the next few days, according to the National Weather Service.

According to a statement from PG&E, about 53,000 people will be affected by the power shut-offs in two tribal communities and the following counties: Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba. The shut-offs are expected to begin at 6 p.m. in some areas, with power restored by 10 p.m. Friday.

The worst wind is expected to come Wednesday night, when some ridges and canyons could see gusts of up to 50 mph, and warm temperatures will add to the fire danger, said weather service meteorologist Brayden Murdock.

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“When you don’t get a lot of air coming from off the water,” Murdock said, “or in this case we’re also not going to see much of a marine layer develop, overnight these temperatures will barely drop off.”

The weather service issued a red flag warning until Friday at 11 a.m. that encompasses the Sacramento Valley, northern Sierra, southern Cascades and the foothills. Temperatures are likely to reach into the 90s in the area Wednesday through Friday. Humidity is already at a low 7% to 20%, with little increase expected overnight, according to the weather service.

Murdock said the wind and temperatures were expected to drop this weekend, but the weather service could extend the red flag warning if conditions persist.

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Low humidity, high temperatures and high winds are ingredients for a dangerous wildfire. Grass and brush dry out, creating prime fuel for a fire. The weather service recommends properly discarding cigarettes, keeping cars off dry grass and avoiding use of power equipment as well as any activity that involves sparks or open flames.

“Just be safe during this time,” Murdock said. “Always be fire-weather aware. It’s October in California, so unfortunately, this is the time for fire-weather awareness.”

PG&E is organizing 40 community resource centers for people without power, with charging outlets, Wi-Fi, bottled water and snacks. Indoor centers will be temperature-controlled and will follow COVID-19 safety measures such as requiring facial coverings, physical distancing and temperature checks, as well as offering grab-and-go options for food, according to PG&E’s website. Centers will open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.

The preemptive shut-offs are the latest in a series of measures PG&E is taking to curb the likelihood of its power equipment igniting fast-spreading wildfires.

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The company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter over the ignition of the 2018 Camp fire in Northern California. PG&E is again under scrutiny as state investigators look at the company’s equipment as a possible cause of the Zogg fire, which started Sept. 27 near Redding, killing four people and burning 56,338 acres.


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