Fire Threat Brings Power Cuts to Thousands in California

September 26, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Tens of thousands of Northern Californians will find themselves without electricity Wednesday as Pacific Gas & Electric cuts power to reduce the threat of hot, dry, gusty weather knocking down power lines and sparking wildfires.

The utility announced it would shut off power to more than 48,000 customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the wine country between 2:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., and the outage will last until the weather improves.

The counties are Butte, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sonoma and Yuba. The utility warned that it could take several days to restore power.

It was the second precautionary shutoff this week. Power was cut to 24,000 customers in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties on Monday evening, lasting into Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison on Tuesday cut power to fewer than 100 people but warned that it was considering shutoffs to more than 140,000 customers in seven counties, depending on weather.

Strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures were forecast in the state through Wednesday, and authorities issued an extreme fire danger warning for some areas, including the Northern California interior.

Some of the most destructive blazes in the state in the past two years were started by PG&E power lines, including a November blaze that killed 86 people and virtually leveled the Butte County town of Paradise.

In January, PG&E sought bankruptcy protection, saying it could not afford an estimated $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from catastrophic wildfires.

Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies holding 85% of the claims from fires that include the Paradise blaze.

The settlement, confirmed Monday, is subject to bankruptcy court approval.

It’s important for PG&E to pull itself from bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a wildfire fund set up to help California’s major utilities pay future claims as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and severe.

About the photo: Caltrans workers helped to keep the stop lights working along the Highway 20 corridor in Penn Valley, Calif. on Wednesday. Pacific Gas & Electric has shut off power to 24,000 customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills and says it will remain off until dangerous wildfire weather eases. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

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