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Power shut off for thousands to avert fires, new blaze burns

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 27, 2020


The nation’s largest electric utility on Sunday temporarily cut power to thousands of Northern California residents to prevent wildfires while a new fire in Napa County forced people from their homes amid hot, windy weather.

Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to 11,000 customers and another 54,000 can expect shutoffs later in the day due to a forecast of high winds, said Angela Lombardi, a company spokeswoman. Some residents in 16 counties may temporarily lose power, with Butte and El Dorado accounting for more than half of the potential shutoffs.

The shutoffs came as a new, swift-moving wildfire broke out in Napa County, which prompted evacuations of homes and a hospital. The fire was burning near several wineries and churned through 1.9 square miles (4.9 square kilometers) Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

After waking up to fire alerts and messages from worried friends, Amy Bordeau of Calistoga said she grabbed the same bag she recently used when evacuating from another nearby wildfire.

“It’s a bit traumatizing,” she told the newspaper. “I feel like I’m constantly fight or flight.”

Fire-weary California is facing a new siege of hot, dry weather with potentially strong winds that could cause power lines to arc and spark new blazes in parched vegetation that’s ready to burn.

Red Flag warnings for extreme fire weather conditions were issued for the northern and central areas of the state from late Saturday to Monday, the National Weather Service said. Similar warnings were in place for parts of Southern California’s San Bernardino and Riverside counties on Monday.

So far this year, more than 8,100 California wildfires have scorched 5,780 square miles (14,970 square kilometers), destroyed more than 7,000 buildings and killed 26 people. Most of the loss has occurred since a frenzy of dry lightning strikes in mid-August ignited a massive outbreak of fires. The causes of other fires remain under investigation and authorities said one was caused by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal event.

On Sunday, wind drove smoke from the new Napa County fire toward Sonoma and Marin counties, worsening the air quality, said Gerry Diaz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We just have smoke on all fronts, unfortunately,” Diaz said.

PG&E has opened community resource centers to help customers who lose power. Lombardi said the company hopes to be able to inspect equipment once the windy weather subsides Monday, and from that time, subsequently restore power to customers within 12 daylight hours.

PG&E has said it is striving to narrow the scope and shorten the length of power cuts after being sharply criticized for intentional outages last year that affected millions of people and sometimes lasted for days.

The shutoffs — part of a safety program that aims to prevent disasters — are only called “as a last resort,” Lombardi said.

Wildfires sparked by PG&E equipment include the wind-driven 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed much of the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Paradise and killed 85 people.