California to cut off power for 1 million people to avoid sparking more wildfires

The blackouts are in response to a forecast for powerful winds

California power authorities are planning to cut power for residents across 38 counties – affecting nearly a million people – as extreme fire weather threatens the region again.

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Pacific Gas & Electric is attempting to avoid a repeat of a 2018 blaze sparked by damaged power equipment, leading to the destruction of much of the town of Paradise and the deaths of 85 people.

PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said the utility's meteorologists were tracking “the strongest offshore wind event of the season."

“We’re seeing a dangerous combination of factors, with high winds, extreme low humidity, record dry fuels on the ground, and extreme to severe drought in many areas.”

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The shutoffs are expected as early as Sunday morning and may last into Tuesday, falling in-line with a Red Flag Warning from the National Weather Service. Conditions will pose an “increased risk of damage” to electrical systems.

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Those conditions include wind gusts up to 35 mph, which could drag any potential spark through miles of dry brush and forestland.

Even a couple of days without power can mean a difference for small businesses already suffering from coronavirus-related restrictions.

Hardware stores saw an increase in customers seeking generators, batteries and flashlights last year when PG&E cut power to homes and businesses, ABC 10 reported. Stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot remained open to service customers, but smaller stores struggled during the shutoffs.

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Supermarkets also saw a sharp increase in activity as customers stocked up on necessities like water, toilet paper and food.

The pandemic already has strained suppliers for months, not just with store closures but also with residents in various states stockpiling supplies due to limits on shopping activity in most areas.

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2020 file photo, A Pacific Gas and Electric worker looks up at the advancing Creek Fire along Highway 168 near Alder Springs, Calif. Pacific Gas & Electric will cut power to over 1 million people on Sunday to prevent the c

Planned power outages are expected to include parts of the Sacramento Valley, the northern and central Sierra Nevada, the Santa Cruz mountains and most of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Weather Service said the conditions could equal those during devastating fires in California’s wine country in 2017 and last year’s Kincade Fire.

The current conditions are extremely dangerous, said Scott Strenfel, PG&E's chief meteorologist.

“We’re seeing ... extremely high winds, extremely low humidity, extreme dry fuels due to the hottest average temperatures over the last six months, according to records that go back 126 years, and extreme drought across the territory given lack of rainfall,” he said in a statement.

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California is currently dealing with a record-breaking wildfire season, with firefighters working across the state to contain 19 wildfires.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.