Story at a glance
- Amid strong winds and dry, hot atmospheric conditions, PG&E is severing power to more than 300,000 customers in California.
- The company reached a $13.5 billion settlement last year for wildfires caused by the utility’s equipment.
Strong winds are expected to pick up in parts of central and Northern California, exacerbating already dry and hot conditions to make the wildfire-weary state at risk for even more deadly flames.
As a precautionary measure, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) severed power to hundreds of thousands of homes. Announcing the decision on Oct. 25, the company said that it will “de-energize” electrical lines exposed to powerful offshore winds beginning Sunday at 10 a.m.
The wind event is reportedly “forecast to have the driest humidity levels and the strongest winds of the wildfire season thus far, that together create high risk of catastrophic wildfires,” PG&E said in a statement.
Roughly 361,000 customers across 36 counties will be impacted by the shutoffs, including fire hotspots like Butte, Santa Cruz, Mariposa, Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba Counties.
While it may not be windy where you are, we assure you the wind is strong in the region's higher elevations. Peak wind gusts so far >80 mph in the Mayacmas Mountains in the North Bay. Meanwhile, gusts near 70 mph at Mt. Diablo in the East Bay. #Windy #CAwx #NorthBay pic.twitter.com/fJs6PbXFzG— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) October 26, 2020
PG&E also notes that customers in 17 Native American tribal communities will be affected.
California, as well as other Western states, have seen a disproportionately dangerous wildfire season in 2020, with more than 4.1 million acres burned due to 8,685 incidents since late July, according to Cal Fire.
More than 10,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed, and 31 people have died.
Jim Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Sacramento, says that the low humidity combined with strong winds is “uncomfortably similar” to the deadly 2019 Kincade Fire, as well as the 2018 Camp Fire and Wind Country Fires of 2017.
"This is our severe weather season right now: fire weather," Mathews told USA Today.
Following the deadly wildfires seen over the past few years, PG&E was found liable for the resident deaths and destruction of homes in California following the Camp Fire, as well as other wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
An investigation by a consulting group revealed that the company’s examination of its power lines have become increasingly lax, which played a significant role in the wildfires in California.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy following the ruling.
The NWS has highlighted several areas as “critical” and “extreme” fire threats in Northern California and Southern California, particularly near Las Vegas, as well as Sacramento, Santa Ana, Stockton and Anaheim in California.
Mathews also points out that the San Francisco Bay Area will be of concern into Monday morning.
“What made this situation worse for this year is we had that big lightning outbreak in August and that caused a lot of these large wildfires that we were dealing with in August and into September,” Mathews told reporters. “This time around… there’s been a lot of work done on those, to contain those fires, so those areas aren’t necessarily impacted, but there’ll be possibly new fire starts.”
PG&E said that power will be restored to customers within 12 daylight hours of having severe weather passing.