In face of wind, power cut to thou­sands in Cal­i­for­nia


LOS AN­GE­LES — Large ar­eas of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia awoke to dark­ness Wed­nes­day as Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric be­gan a plan to shut off power to about 800,000 cus­tomers in a bid to avoid wild­fires sparked by wind-dam­aged elec­tri­cal equip­ment.

The first power cut­offs, af­fect­ing about 513,000 cus­tomers, be­gan shortly af­ter mid­night in sev­eral coun­ties around Sacramento, in­clud­ing Placer and Yuba. As strength­en­ing winds con­tin­ued to roll out into the early morn­ing hours, mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans even­tu­ally will be left in the dark.

By 12:30 a.m. Wed­nes­day, power had been cut to large

por­tions of wine coun­try, in­clud­ing Napa and Sonoma val­leys. Por­tions of Marin County just north of San Fran­cisco lost power next. Min­utes later, the util­ity cut ser­vice in El Do­rado County and sec­tions of the up­per Sacramento Val­ley. By 5 a.m., the cut­offs had ex­tended to Hum­boldt County to the north, Marin County to the south and as far as Nevada County to the east, ac­cord­ing to a map pro­vided by the util­ity.

The sec­ond phase of the shut-off was ex­pected to oc­cur in ar­eas around Sil­i­con Val­ley and the East San Fran­cisco Bay. About 234,000 cus­tomers in Alameda, Alpine, Con­tra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Ma­teo and Santa Clara coun­ties also were ex­pected to lose power.

The util­ity said Wed­nes­day that it also was con­sid­er­ing shut­ting off power to about 42,000 cus­tomers in the south­ern­most por­tion of Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric’s ser­vice area, but spe­cific sites have not been de­ter­mined.

On Tues­day, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son an­nounced that it also was con­sid­er­ing pre­ven­tive power cut­offs. The util­ity said that given the an­tic­i­pated strong Santa Ana winds, power could be cut off to more than 106,000 cus­tomers in parts of eight South­ern Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties, in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les County.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son’s pos­si­ble black­out also could af­fect cus­tomers in San Bernardino and River­side coun­ties, as well as ar­eas in Ven­tura County and por­tions of Kern, Tu­lare, Inyo and Mono coun­ties.

The black­outs are ex­pected to ul­ti­mately af­fect 34 coun­ties in cen­tral and North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, more than half of all coun­ties in the state.

It marks the largest power shut­down to date as util­i­ties across Cal­i­for­nia at­tempt to re­duce wild­fire risks in the face of strong winds. Equip­ment mal­func­tions have been tied to some of the state’s most de­struc­tive and deadly fires, in­clud­ing last year’s Camp fire, which dev­as­tated the town of Par­adise, killing 85 peo­ple, and the 2017 wine coun­try blazes.

“The safety of our cus­tomers and the com­mu­ni­ties we serve is our most im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­ity, which is why PG&E has de­cided to turn power off to cus­tomers dur­ing this wide­spread, se­vere wind event. We un­der­stand the ef­fects this event will have on our cus­tomers and ap­pre­ci­ate the pub­lic’s pa­tience as we do what is nec­es­sary to keep our com­mu­ni­ties safe and re­duce the risk of wild­fire,” said Michael Lewis, the util­ity’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of elec­tric op­er­a­tions.

Based on the lat­est fore­casts, the util­ity says it ex­pects high winds to last through mid­day to­day, with peak winds reach­ing up to 70 mph through this morn­ing. Once the fire weather sub­sides, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric will in­spect and test the grid with on-site crews and elec­tron­i­cally be­fore restor­ing ser­vice. That could take up to five days, a com­pany of­fi­cial said.

“To ev­ery­one ask­ing, ‘Where’s the wind? Where’s the wind?’ Don’t worry, the wind is com­ing. Go for a hike above 4,000 feet, and you’ll feel it,” said Steve An­der­son, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice’s Bay Area of­fice. “Ob­vi­ously PG&E doesn’t want to cut the power when there’s al­ready strong winds. You want to cut the power be­fore it hap­pens.”

Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric set up about 30 com­mu­nity cen­ters of­fer­ing air con­di­tion­ing, re­strooms, bot­tled wa­ter and elec­tronic charg­ing sta­tions dur­ing day­light hours.


The power shut-offs have gen­er­ated back­lash, with some res­i­dents say­ing they cre­ate a whole new set of dan­gers as they try to watch for news about fires. There is also con­cern about peo­ple in ill health who rely on med­i­cal equip­ment that must be plugged in.

“I think this is a tacit ad­mis­sion that they rec­og­nize their li­a­bil­ity for huge wild­fires we’ve had and that their grid has a lot of de­fi­cien­cies,” James Moore, an at­tor­ney from Auburn, said of the wide­spread black­out.

Moore re­al­ized power had been cut off when his breath­ing-aid ma­chine stopped work­ing overnight on a busi­ness trip to Sonoma County. Moore and his wife, Kristen, tried to pre­pare as best they could with lim­ited no­tice, fill­ing cars with gas and buy­ing ice to keep re­frig­er­ated items cold, he said.

Their home has elec­tric ap­pli­ances, so cook­ing will be lim­ited to a propane grill they use for camp­ing. The power cut­off also means the cou­ple, whose home is equipped with an elec­tric pump that pulls wa­ter from the street to the prop­erty, will not have run­ning wa­ter.

“I wish they would have been more trans­par­ent in in­form­ing peo­ple ear­lier of their plan to do these kind of power shut-offs,” Moore said. “I rec­og­nize the weather is not some­thing they can pre­dict very far in the fu­ture, but the fact they’re turn­ing off power in 34 coun­ties is a hu­mon­gous in­con­ve­nience, to say the least.”

Be­fore the lights went out in the East Bay town of Mor­aga, cars were lined up at gas sta­tions and cus­tomers filled carts at the town’s only su­per­mar­ket with bags of ice, canned goods, loaves of bread, break­fast ce­real and wa­ter.

Lines were also long at phar­ma­cies and hard­ware stores, where emer­gency sup­plies were run­ning low.

“Do you have any lanterns?” Elma Lear asked at Mor­aga Hard­ware and Lum­ber. “Or can­dles?”

The store was out of both and also had run out of bat­ter­ies and cool­ers — even Yeti cool­ers that cost as much as $400, owner Bill Snider said.

On Tues­day, the store sold 500 flash­lights. Other high-de­mand items were ex­ten­sion cords, propane tanks for bar­be­cues and bu­tane for camp­ing stoves. Gen­er­a­tors were al­most im­pos­si­ble to find.

Lear, who had stocked up on non­per­ish­able food and cash, and filled her gas tank, was di­rected to a home decor shop nearby where she had to fork over $40 for long-last­ing beeswax can­dles.

“I’m go­ing to bite the bul­let,” she said.

Gov. Gavin New­som said peo­ple should be an­gry by the util­ity’s move.

“No one is sat­is­fied with this, no one is happy with this,” he said Tues­day.

Assem­bly Repub­li­can leader Marie Wal­dron said the util­ity’s an­nounce­ment is a sign of how far the state has fallen be­hind in ef­forts to pre­vent cat­a­strophic wild­fires.

“This is the frus­trat­ing re­sult of decades of for­est mis­man­age­ment and ag­ing en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture,” Wal­dron said. “These shut-offs high­light the need to in­vest in veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment, up­date our en­ergy grid and help Cal­i­for­ni­ans har­den their homes against wild­fires.”

The state Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices has been in con­tact with the emer­gency work­ers man­ag­ing the ef­fect of power shut-offs, ac­cord­ing to spokesman Brian Ferguson.

“It’s clear that this is a com­plex and rapidly evolv­ing chal­lenge,” Ferguson said. “We con­tinue to work with lo­cal and state law en­force­ment and lo­cal com­mu­nity lead­ers to min­i­mize the im­pact of these power ou­tages and keep res­i­dents safe.”

The shut-off also re­sulted in the can­cel­la­tion of classes at schools across North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing at large col­lege cam­puses like the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

The Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity sys­tem had to can­cel classes at Sonoma State and Hum­boldt State, which to­gether have about 17,000 stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to spokesman Michael Uh­lenkamp.

All cam­puses in the El Do­rado Union High School Dis­trict in the Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento also were closed Wed­nes­day.

State Sen. Scott Wiener said the state is act­ing to make sure sim­i­lar shut-offs do not be­come com­mon in the fu­ture.

“Peo­ple rely on elec­tric­ity for their medicine, their food and their liveli­hood. This is a com­pletely un­ac­cept­able state of af­fairs. While tar­geted black­outs can help pre­vent wild­fires, we can’t let PG&E nor­mal­ize these black­outs,” he said.

Once the fire weather sub­sides, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric will in­spect and test the grid with on-site crews and elec­tron­i­cally be­fore restor­ing ser­vice. That could take up to five days, a com­pany of­fi­cial said.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Han­nah Fry, Joseph Serna, Pa­trick McGreevy and Anita Chabria of the Los An­ge­les Times; and by Brian Melley, Ter­ence Chea, Janie Har, Olga Ro­driguez, Jo­ce­lyn Gecker, Don Thompson, Haven Da­ley, Christo­pher We­ber and John Antczak of The As­so­ci­ated Press.


Danny Molles helps a cus­tomer find bat­ter­ies Wed­nes­day at the fam­ily owned Friedman’s Home Im­prove­ment store in the Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try town of Sonoma, where the elec­tric­ity was cut off ear­lier in the day. More photos are avail­able at arkansason­

AP/Marin In­de­pen­dent Journal/ALAN DEP

Car­los Lama uses an LED lamp and his phone Wed­nes­day to work at the counter of the Bayside Cafe in Sausal­ito, Calif., af­ter power was cut to the area as a pre­cau­tion against wild­fires.

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