Nearly 200,000 to Lose Power as Winds Rake Tinder-Dry California

A Pacific Gas & Electric worker walks in front of a truck in San Francisco on Aug. 15, 2019. Two years after some of the deadliest wildfires tore through Northern California wine country, the state’s largest utility plans to shut off power to nearly 200,000 customers in Northern California to head off wildfires caused by faulty power lines. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(CN) – Parts of Northern and Central California face another round of voluntary power outages as Pacific Gas & Electric announced Wednesday it will shut off power to approximately 179,000 customers due to warm, windy weather and conditions ripe for wildfires.

Two weeks after enduring sharp criticism from residents and public officials for pre-emptively cutting power to nearly 800,000 customers, the investor-owned utility began shutting off power to customers in the Sierra foothills as high winds and dry conditions combined to create the conditions for a rapidly moving wildfire.

“Once the high winds subside, PG&E will inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event, and then restore power,” the utility said in a statement Tuesday. “PG&E will safely restore power in stages as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring the vast majority of customers within 48 hours after the weather has passed.”

The Sierra foothills witnessed the Camp Fire last year, the deadliest and most destructive in modern California history. The blaze killed 85 people and caused more than $15 billion in economic damage.

Later Wednesday afternoon, PG&E began shutting off power to several counties north of San Francisco, including Napa and Sonoma counties, where a large fire killed dozens white razing entire neighborhoods in 2017.

PG&E owns and maintains the electrical equipment implicated in many of the wildfires in Northern California and says the pre-emptive blackout strategy is necessary to avoid large-scale economic devastation and loss of life.

The company said it found more than 100 spots where heavy winds had damaged electrical lines during its pre-emptive shutoff two weeks ago. If it had not been for the blackouts, a large and rapidly spreading fire may have sparked according to the utility.

There is no shortage of critics, who say the company has neglected its infrastructure for years if not decades in its quest of higher profits. Many residents have clamored for the state to take the embattled company over and Governor Gavin Newsom has offered frequent sharp criticism of the utility’s practices.

PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel said wind gusts in areas of Northern California are expected to reach 35 mph with gusts of 65 mph in some higher elevations.

Areas of Kern and San Mateo Counties will likely see outages overnight.

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