Northern California fire forces thousands to evacuate, power cut to millions

Northern California fire forces thousands to evacuate, power cut to millions
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Broad swaths of Sonoma County in Northern California were evacuated Saturday amid a major fire that led Pacific Gas & Electric to cut electricity to millions of homes, according to The Associated Press.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick reportedly said the evacuation order applied to an area ranging from the inland area of Healdsburg and west through the Russian River Valley and to Bodega Bay, with a larger area put on notice to prepare even more residents to leave if necessary.

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PG&E, meanwhile, shut off power for about 2.35 million people across 38 counties, according to the AP, while approximately 90,000 people affected by the 40-square-mile fire have been ordered to evacuate. The National Weather Service has warned winds could reach 75 miles per hour, leading to "erratic fire behavior” and downed power lines.

PG&E has said the outages will affect approximately 940,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for at least 48 hours, although they said San Francisco itself is not projected to be affected.

“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Essick said. “You cannot fight this. Please evacuate.”

Gusts are expected to peak early Sunday in the strongest such wind event in several years, according to PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel, who said there is also a high probability of breaking branches and falling trees.

PG&E’s approach to the shutoffs has come under major criticism, particularly from disability advocates who warn that power could mean life or death for people who rely on medical equipment. A northern California man in El Dorado County who relied on an oxygen tank died earlier this month after PG&E cut power to his home.

Last week, San Jose, the third-biggest city in California and the largest served by PG&E, proposed turning the private utility into a publicly owned cooperative.

“This is a crisis begging for a better solution than what PG&E customers see being considered today,” Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) said.