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PG&E warns 21,000 customers of potential outages as heat, wind are expected to boost fire danger

By Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. may cut power to about 21,000 customers in parts of California's Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties this weekend as dry, unseasonably hot conditions and strong winds are expected to increase fire danger in the region.

Utility officials said Thursday that a "public safety power shutoff" could be necessary because "hot and dry conditions, combined with expected high wind gusts, pose an increased risk for damage to the electric system that has the potential to ignite fires in areas with dry vegetation."

Although there's "still uncertainty regarding the strength and timing of this weather system," according to a PG&E statement, "high fire-risk conditions are expected to arrive Saturday evening, continue through Sunday evening and subside Monday morning."

David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, previously said that a large area of high pressure covering almost the entire West Coast is expected to build over the weekend. Temperatures could climb 10 to 20 degrees above normal in some areas.

Red flag warnings are now in effect for much of Northern California from 9 p.m. Saturday through early Monday. The warning covers from just above Redding southeast into the Sierra foothills, parts of the Sacramento Valley, and areas in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, including the North Bay mountains, East Bay hills and interior valleys.

Officials said the forecast conditions - which include sustained winds, low humidity and summer-like temperatures - will make it easier for fires to start and spread.

That's unwelcome news in an area of the state where crews are still working to contain some of the largest wildfires in California history.

Those include the North Complex fire northeast of Oroville - which has burned more than 304,000 acres and has also become one of the deadliest and most destructive in the state's history. Containment on that fire is at 78%.

The mammoth August Complex fire has also charred a state-record 867,000-plus acres in and around the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests, southwest of Redding. That blaze was 38% contained as of Friday morning.

 

While many of the blazes comprising this year's unprecedented fire season are believed to have been sparked by lightning, recent years have seen power equipment ignite some of California's most devastating fires - including the 2018 Camp fire that destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and killed 85 people.

PG&E previously implemented widespread power shutoffs - affecting roughly 172,000 customers in 22 counties - earlier this month on account of severe wind.

Officials said Thursday that the utility later found more than 80 instances of damage or hazards on power lines that were deenergized from Sept. 7 to 10 and that "any of these could have potentially led to a wildfire had the lines not been turned off."

"We have worked diligently to improve public safety power shutoffs by integrating enhanced weather technology, boosting our coordination with counties and state agencies and making sure customers get timely and accurate information," PG&E Interim President Michael Lewis said in a statement. "Still, we know turning off the power represents a significant hardship for our customers. Please know that we don't take this decision lightly, and we will only initiate a (power shutoff) as an option of last resort when severe weather that could cause a wildfire makes it absolutely necessary for public safety."

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(Times staff writer Maura Dolan contributed to this report.)

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

(c)2020 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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