Power Cuts Begin in California as Winds Threaten to Spark Fires

By Mark Chediak and David R. Baker | December 2, 2020

Power shutoffs that could ultimately affect more than 1 million people in Southern California began Wednesday morning as high winds raised the risk of live wires sparking wildfires.

Edison International’s Southern California Edison cut electricity to 849 homes and businesses in Los Angeles and Ventura counties as of 9:15 a.m. local time, according to its website. The utility warned it could shut power to more than 271,000 customer accounts in eight counties, or about 813,000 people based on the size of the average household. That would constitute the region’s largest public-safety blackout this year.

Dry winds strong enough to knock down power lines are forecast to rattle Southern California through Thursday, exposing more than 6.4 million people to critical fire weather, according to the National Weather Service and the U.S. Storm Prediction Center.

“If fires do start they will have a pretty dangerous spread,” said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the center. The danger isn’t just the immediate conditions, but the prolonged dryness that has plagued the area and turned trees, grasses and shrubs into fuel. Red flag fire warnings are posted in and around Los Angeles County as the threat grows.

California has already been charred by record fires that have burned 4.2 million acres and killed 31 people in 2020. Utilities including Edison and PG&E Corp. have cut power repeatedly to prevent live wires from falling into dry brush.

Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric utility also warned that 88,700 homes and businesses, or more than 260,000 people, could lose power Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and possibly remain in the dark through Sunday or Monday. Most affected customers would be in the mountains east of San Diego. PG&E, California’s largest utility, said it may cut power to about 600 homes and businesses in Kern County this week, as well.

Last week, Edison cut power to thousands of customers on Thanksgiving during high winds. In 2019, PG&E filed for bankruptcy after its wires sparked the deadliest blaze in state history.

The high winds and blackouts will be mostly confined to Southern California but could touch a portion of the state’s Central Valley as well.

–With assistance from Brian K. Sullivan.

About the photo: Power lines stand in Crockett, California, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. As many as 10 million Californians were supposed go dark on Monday in an unprecedented series of rolling blackouts designed to save the power grid from the worst heat wave in 70 years. But temperatures fell, people turned down their air conditioners and utilities called off the outages. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.