Fire Weather Prompts Statewide Power Shut Off

Clay Curtis
October 11, 2019

Winds gusted dangerously as forecast before calming in Northern California, where Pacific Gas & Electric faced hostility and second-guessing over its widespread rolling blackouts.

On Wednesday, the state's main supplier of electricity, Pacific Gas & Electric, intentionally cut power to 500,000 customers in an attempt to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires due to the dry weather and windy conditions.

Some of the state's most devastating wildfires were sparked in recent years by damage to electrical transmission lines from high winds, with flames then spreading through tinder-dry vegetation to populated areas. "Neglect, a desire to advance not public safety but profits", Newsom said during a press conference.

"We are entering into a two-, three- or four-day period of extreme fire danger in California", Governor Gavin Newsom said at an event in San Diego on Wednesday.

He also faulted PG&E for putting what he called "greed" ahead of investments in its infrastructure to protect the electrical grid from unsafe winds. State Sen. Scott Weiner estimated that 2.5 million people could be impacted. Police have ordered evacuations as the fast-moving wildfire spread in the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area community. "It's unacceptable that the region is being forced to endure this level of disruption as the long-term strategy for dealing with the threat of wildfires".

Although PG&E said changing weather conditions and work-arounds had restored power to about 44,000 customers, its action was the largest precautionary electricity shutoff undertaken by California's biggest investor-owned utility.

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Now that the high winds have passed, the utility company needs to manually inspect 24,000 miles worth of distribution lines to make sure they're operating safely.

The firm said Thursday evening on Twitter it would start safety inspections with 6,300 field personnel and 45 helicopters standing at the ready as soon as gusty weather passes.

Oakland supermarkets brought in refrigeration trucks to save food and Montclair businesses like Laurie Shepherd's dental clinic were unable to tell patients when they would reopen.

"We probably have to stop building in places where we're putting people at risk", Pincetl said. "We were just left up in the air".

More than 3 million people may be eventually affected, based on city estimates and the average household size.

"This is preventative medicine and medicine sometimes is not good to take", said Mark Stark, 60, who lost one restaurant in the 2017 blaze. "Whether it's a grid-caused fire, or an ignition from a auto engine, or your lawnmower or something else, those are not places where people should be living and expect all the tax payers of the state to bail them out". "The cause of the fire has not been determined".

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