California wildfire threat spurs utility PG&E to cut power to 89,000 customers

The customers are expected to get power back on Monday night, the company said

Tens of thousands of residents in Northern California will have their power temporarily shut off starting Sunday as the state's largest utility tries to prevent wildfires from being sparked by electrical equipment.

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Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) said Saturday that a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) will begin early Sunday morning and impact 15,000 customers in the first phase. A second phase will begin by Sunday afternoon and impact an additional 74,000 customers.

"This PSPS event is based on forecasts of widespread, severely dry conditions and strong, gusty winds," the utility said. "These conditions are expected to continue through Monday morning in most locations."

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The power shutoff will impact 89,000 customers overall in portions of 16 counties, according to PG&E.

Areas impacted include Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama and Yuba counties.

"Two customers within Sonoma County and 15 customers in Kern County are also expected to be included in the scope of this PSPS," the utility said.

The Public Safety Power Shutoff programs used by PG&E and other utilities have been developed in response to previous disasters.  (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The customers are expected to get power back on Monday night, the company said.

Pacific Gas & Electric said that during the shutoffs employees will check power lines for any damage. The company has opened 28 outdoor, open-air community resource centers to help customers who lost power.

The shutoffs come as fire-weary California is facing a new stretch 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.

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Red flag warnings for extreme fire weather conditions have been in effect in northern and central areas of the state since 9 p.m. Saturday and are expected to last into Monday, according to the  National Weather Service (NWS).

Jim Degraff, who lost his Yuba County home three years ago in the Cascade Fire, told FOX40 on Saturday he's prepared with defensible space, including taking care of green grass and having hoses at the ready.

Cal Fire air tankers help stop the spread of a brush fire in Larkfield Calif, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

“I was determined to make sure I didn’t go through this again,” he told FOX40. “The smell of smoke gets us all, especially in the middle of the night. You smell smoke and that triggers it all.”

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More than 8,000 California wildfires so far this year have scorched 5,600 square miles, destroyed more than 7,000 buildings, and killed 26 people.

Cal Fire's Boggs helitack assist in putting out a 12 acre brush fire in Larkfield Calif., Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Most of the loss has occurred since a massive outbreak of fires ignited a massive amount of dry lightning strikes in mid-August in the northern part of the state.

The renewed concern of weather igniting new blazes came with some 17,000 firefighters still on the lines of 25 major wildfires statewide, according to Cal Fire.

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

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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.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.