High Winds Across California Spur Power Outages, Wildfire Fears

Authorities access the damage after a woman was killed after a large eucalyptus tree toppled and smashed onto a car she was inside of in the driveway of her home in Tustin, Calif. during the heavy Santa Ana winds on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Potentially powerful winds combined with dry weather are raising the threat of wildfires in California. (Mindy Schauer /The Orange County Register via AP)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Strong Santa Ana winds knocked out electricity for about 80,000 residents in Southern California on Monday, while high winds in the north part of the state forced utilities to pre-emptively shut off power to prevent possible wildfires.

Emergency officials said the dry winds and warm temperatures are ideal for fire conditions in Southern California. The National Weather Service in Los Angeles said the strong Santa Ana winds ranged from 20 to 55 mph, with some wind gusts in the foothills as high as 65 mph. A red flag warning is in effect and put emergency officials on high alert.

A woman in Orange County was killed when a large tree fell onto her car, according to LA’s ABC affiliate KABC-7. Emergency officials said they found a woman stuck beneath a large tree branch around 9:30 a.m., and she was declared dead at the scene. Gusts in Orange County topped 75 mph on Monday morning.

Several Southern California counties lost power with hundreds of outages reported affecting nearly 80,000 customers, according to the Southern California Edison outage map. Coupled with the high winds and dry conditions, the utility company said it may shut off power to customers in “high fire risk area” but that had not occurred as of Monday afternoon.

The number of reported outages fluctuated between 60,000 to 78,590 on the utility company’s website. An SCE spokesperson said the utility could not say how many of those outages were a result of the high winds.

FILE – In this Oct. 11, 2017 file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric crew works at restoring power along the Old Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa, Calif. Northern California’s biggest utility has taken the unprecedented step of cutting electricity for tens of thousands of customers in an attempt to prevent wildfires amid rising winds and official warnings. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge advanced a mass of wildfire claims against SCE by customers who claim faulty electrical equipment sparked the Thomas Fire, which burned 280,000 acres and destroyed approximately 1,300 structures in December 2017.

Meanwhile in Northern California, utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric warned customers it may shut off electricity in 12 counties to avoid any risk of downed power lines sparking wildfires. The utility shut off electricity for 59,000 customers in the North Bay and Sierra foothills due to gusty winds on Sunday.

Recently, Cal Fire found sagging power lines ignited a deadly wildfire last year in Yuba County that destroyed 264 structures, killed four people and injured a firefighter.

A group of California attorneys are coordinating hundreds of property damage lawsuits stemming from last year’s deadly fire season, with 2,000 cases being adjudicated in San Francisco Superior Court alone.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to help utility companies offset their liabilities by passing on some of the damages to ratepayers. The law takes effect in 2019, however, and is not retroactive.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, told The Associated Press that ratepayers can expect about $5 extra on their bills for every $1 billion Pacific Gas & Electric has to finance to pay damages.

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