California prepares for biggest blackout yet

California prepares for biggest blackout yet
© JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

California is bracing itself for widespread power outages as forecasts predict powerful winds will strike the state this weekend.

Pacific Gas & Electric warned Friday that it will likely be shutting off power to 850,000 Northern California customers on Saturday night as historic winds are expected to hit the region. The shutdown, which would affect 36 counties, would be the largest wind-related blackout in California to date, according to The Los Angeles Times

“PG&E will need to turn off power for safety several hours before the potentially damaging winds arrive,” the company said in a statement. “Winds of this magnitude pose a higher risk of damage and sparks on the electric system and rapid wildfire spread. The fire risk is even higher because vegetation on the ground has been dried out by recent wind events.” 

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PG&E urged customers to prepare for a shutoff lasting 48 hours or longer, noting that “power cannot be restored until the dangerous weather has passed, safety inspections of de-energized lines are complete, and damage to the system has been repaired.” 

“We understand that a longer shutoff would be very difficult for our customers," PG&E Corporation CEO and President Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonPG&E announces .5B settlement for Northern California wildfires California prepares for biggest blackout yet Largest California utility reports broken power line near wildfire origin MORE said in a statement. "We are already working to minimize the length, including amassing a force of field personnel from PG&E, plus contractors and other utility companies, to be ready to tackle the inspection, repair and restoration process as soon as the weather passes."

Strong winds have already wreaked havoc in California, helping fuel a 21,900-acre wildfire in Sonoma County. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but some suspect that PG&E transmission lines are to blame. 

The company has been shutting off power to customers to avoid fires sparked by electrical lines. PG&E shut off power to approximately 178,000 customers this week, but said Thursday power was restored to 93 percent of those affected.