By Mark Chediak
PG&E will make a final decision on the outages Wednesday morning, with the first customers expected to go dark later in the day, Mark Quinlan, an incident commander for the San Francisco-based utility, said during a briefing. Red flag fire warnings are in effect across Northern California from the Oregon border to the Bay Area as dry winds sweep the region, the National Weather Service said. PG&E warned some may be without power until late Friday.
California has been plagued by wild weather all year. In a matter of months, the state has endured unprecedented heat waves, freak lighting storms, powerful gusts, extremely dry weather and a record-breaking wildfire season. Blazes this year have charred more than 4 million acres, killed 31 people and destroyed more than 9,200 homes and businesses, according to the state’s fire agency.
The widespread shutoffs PG&E is planning would impact about 54,000 homes and businesses, the company said. That’s about 162,000 people based on the average California household.
PG&E has already had to cut the lights multiple times this year during high winds. In August, California’s grid operator ordered the first rotating outages since the Enron-era energy crisis of 2001 as scorching weather sent electricity demand surging.
The threat of fires is widespread across much of the U.S. West, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. Dry winds are keeping temperatures above normal along California’s coast and creating conditions where fires can spread.
As winds ebb in Northern California Thursday, they will pick up in the southern half of the state, Chenard said. Temperatures in Los Angeles are forecast to hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) Friday, the weather service said.
The latest outage could be especially painful for California’s Wine Country, where many are still reeling from a devastating blaze that broke out last month. Unlike previous blackouts, this one would also hit more densely populated parts of the San Francisco Bay area.