California utility may cut power to reduce wildfire risks as equipment probed in deadly blaze

PG&E says a Diablo wind event may necessitate a Public Safety Power Shutoff

The nation's largest utility said Sunday it may need to cut power in parts of Northern California this week due to increasing wildfire risk, as its equipment is being investigated for possible links to another blaze.

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Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said on its website there's an increasing risk that a Diablo wind event may necessitate a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) starting on Wednesday.

"At this time, the weather event is expected to begin Wednesday afternoon/evening and continue through Thursday morning," the company said.

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The utility company said the locations with the highest possibility of a shutoff, as of Sunday, are “the Northern Sierra Nevada foothills, the mid and higher elevations in the Sierra generally north of Yosemite (northern part of Zone 8), the North Bay mountains and potentially pockets of the Santa Cruz mountains.”

The second period of winds may develop during Thursday night into Friday morning in the Northern Sierra and North Bay mountains.

PG&E said more information will be available in the next 48 hours as forecasters get a better idea of what the impacts from the wind will be.

"The strength of these winds is somewhat uncertain, but gusts at or above 50 mph are looking possible in elevated terrain in the North Bay and Northern Sierra," the company said in a forecast outlook.

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Warmer temperatures returning to the region mean that fire danger will "rapidly increase" later in the day as dead fuels "quickly dry out" in warmer and drier conditions.

The Public Safety Power Shutoff programs used by PG&E and other utilities have been developed in response to disasters.

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The possible next shutoff comes as investigators in California probing the cause of another wildfire that killed four people have taken possession of equipment belonging to PG&E.

In a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E said Friday investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) have taken some of its equipment as part of the ongoing investigation into the Zogg Fire.

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"PG&E does not have access to any evidence collected by CAL FIRE," the company said in its filing. "CAL FIRE has not issued a determination as to cause. PG&E is cooperating with CAL FIRE in its investigation."

In this Sept. 28, 2020 file photo, a Pacific Gas and Electric employee sprays water on a burning telephone pole at the Zogg Fire near Ono, Calif. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

In its filing Friday, PG&E said that wildfire camera and satellite data from Sept. 27 show the fire began in the area between 2:43 p.m. and 2:46 p.m. Customers in the area where the fire started, near Zogg Mine Road and Jenny Bird Lane north of Igo, are served by a 12,000-volt PG&E circuit.

On the day the fire began, the utility’s automated equipment in the area “reported alarms and other activity between approximately 2:40 p.m. and 3:06 p.m.,” PG&E told regulators. The line was then de-activated.

In this Sept. 27, 2020, file photo, a house burns on Platina Road at the Zogg Fire near Ono, Calif. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

"The data currently available to PG&E do not establish the causes of the activity on the Girvan 1101 circuit or the locations of these causes," the company said.

PG&E recently emerged from bankruptcy stemming from financial fallout from several devastating wildfires caused by its utility equipment that killed more than 100 people and destroyed more than 27,000 homes and other buildings in 2017 and 2018.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.