A return of bone-dry humidity and gusty winds Wednesday in Northern Calfornia during the peak of wildfire season is expected to result in power outages for tens of thousands of customers that could last until Friday.
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“We really view it as a last resort option,” Mark Quinlan, the company’s incident commander, said at a briefing on Tuesday.
Wind gusts possibly hitting 55 mph have spurred the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue a red-flag warning from 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday morning.
While PG&E said it will make a final decision sometime on Wednesday morning whether to implement the pre-emptive electricity cuts, it advised that it began its one-day advance notifications to customers.
Customers in portions of the following counties are being notified of potential shutoffs: Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba.
The Public Safety Power Shutoff is an effort by the utility to prevent fires from being started by damaged power lines fouled or knocked down in high winds. The utility also has deployed generators and other measures to keep electricity flowing in some areas that might otherwise have lost power during the outages, according to Quinlan.
If the forecast unfolds as planned, there will be two main waves of when customers lose electricity.
About 33,000 homes and businesses could begin losing power at 6 p.m., mainly in the Sierra Nevada foothills and northern San Francisco Bay Area, followed by 21,000 other customers two hours later in other portions of the Sierras and the Bay Area, along with portions of the Central Coast, PG&E said.
The figures for affected customers range from more than 11,300 in Butte County, 6,000 in Santa Cruz County and around 5,400 customers in Alameda County to just 10 in Yolo County, according to the utility.
About 200 people in Humboldt County in the far north could lose power Thursday afternoon as winds hit there, PG&E said. All power should be restored by late Friday night, the utility said.
Thirty-one people have died, and more than 9,200 structures have been destroyed.
“We have had a historic fire season this year,” PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel said. “We are and will continue to be in the peak of fire season until the rain and snow returns. And all of us here hope that it returns sooner rather than later.”
The Public Safety Power Shutoff programs used by PG&E and other utilities have been developed in response to disasters.
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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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.