California’s largest utility began cutting power to some 800,000 customers early Wednesday so its equipment won’t spark wildfires during a “severe wind event,” the company said.
Pacific Gas & Electric said the “public safety power shutoff” would roll out in two or three phases, with the first intentional outages affecting 513,000 customers mostly north of San Francisco early Wednesday morning.
The monster winds leading to the calculated blackouts were expected to last through Thursday with gusts as high as 70 mph in higher elevations, the utility said in a statement.
The National Weather Service said the hot, dry winds had the potential to be the strongest offshore wind event in the area since the October 2017 North Bay fires.
“This is a recipe for explosive fire growth, if a fire starts,” the NWS said in a Twitter post.
PG&E’s decision to pull the plug Wednesday followed nearly a year after the historic Camp Fire raged through Paradise, Calif., and became the deadliest in state history, killing at least 85 people and destroying nearly 20,000 structures in Butte County.
The utility considered shutting down power in Butte County for two days before the Camp Fire started Nov. 8, but ultimately it did not. CalFire later said electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E ignited the fire in nearby Pulga, Calif.
The first phase of Wednesday’s power outages was set to affect customers in the counties of Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba, PG&E said.
The second phase set to start at noon on Wednesday was expected to affect 234,000 customers in the counties of Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Santa Clara.
A third phase remained under consideration Wednesday for the southernmost portions of PG&E’s service area involving 42,000 customers, the company said.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event,” Michael Lewis, the utility’s head of electric operations, said in a statement.
“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire.”