North state plunged into his­toric black­out

The Sacramento Bee - - Front Page - BY TONY BIZJAK, DAR­RELL SMITH AND MICHAEL MC­GOUGH tbiz­[email protected]

Fac­ing wide­spread fire dan­ger, PG&E said it would in­ter­rupt power at mid­night. If fully im­ple­mented, it could be the largest en­gi­neered out­age in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory, cut­ting off

800,000 homes and busi­nesses in

34 coun­ties. More than 2 mil­lion in the Sierra foothills, the Bay Area and else­where could be af­fected.

An­gry and tense, hun­dreds of thou­sands of North­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans braced for a his­toric PG&E elec­tri­cal power grid shut­down slated to be­gin early Wed­nes­day.

Res­i­dents in as many as 34 coun­ties were ex­pected to wake up with­out power Wed­nes­day and more could lose it through the day as the util­ity com­pany shuts down hun­dreds of miles of power lines to avoid trig­ger­ing wild­fires amid the strong­est winds seen in two years.

“This is the mea­sure of last re­sort,” Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s vice pres­i­dent of the com­mu­nity wild­fire safety pro­gram, said late Tues­day. The util­ity said with cer­tainty at a 7 p.m. news con­fer­ence that about 500,000 cus­tomers across the north state would be plunged into an en­gi­neered black­out be­tween mid­night and 4 a.m.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is fore­cast­ing sus­tained winds in many North­ern Cal­i­for­nia ar­eas of 30 miles per hour with gusts be­yond 50 mph in the moun­tains, which would be the high­est winds the north state has ex­pe­ri­enced since the dev­as­tat­ing fires that lev­eled por­tions of Sonoma and Napa coun­ties in Oc­to­ber 2017.

The shut-offs will start first in far north­ern ar­eas of the state, like Redding, soon af­ter mid­night Wed­nes­day, PG&E of­fi­cials said, and will oc­cur in stages in key dan­ger ar­eas dur­ing the day. Ar­eas fur­ther south could be cut off as dan­ger­ous winds, in­clud­ing hot and dry Santa Anas, reach ar­eas of Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia in­clud­ing Bak­ers­field.

If fully im­ple­mented, some 800,000 homes and busi­nesses – 16 per­cent of PG&E’s five mil­lion cus­tomers – will be with­out power for up to five days, prompt­ing wor­ries among many who are re­liant on elec­tric­ity for health and ba­sic needs. Hospi­tals and nurs­ing homes will be run­ning on gen­er­a­tor power.

The util­ity com­pany said it will set up 28 emer­gency com­mu­nity re­source cen­ters around the north state to be open dur­ing day­light hours only, of­fer­ing re­strooms, bot­tled wa­ter, charg­ing sta­tions and air-con­di­tioned seat­ing ar­eas. PG&E has posted a power shut­off page on its web­site.

Of­fi­cials from the util­ity said Tues­day night that even as red flag warn­ings ex­pire, restor­ing power to some ar­eas could take as many as five days with a

“pri­or­i­tized” ap­proach.

Ar­eas fur­ther south are brac­ing as well for high winds this week, and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son said it may cut elec­tric­ity to 106,000 cus­tomers in eight coun­ties.


Sacra­mento County, which is served by the Sacra­mento Mu­nic­i­pal Util­ity Dis­trict, is not ex­pected to suf­fer any out­ages. SMUD of­fi­cials, how­ever, will be mon­i­tor­ing their power lines in the foothills. A SMUD spokesman said those lines are de­signed to with­stand the wind speeds ex­pected in those ar­eas.

“We’re not on high alert, but we’re mon­i­tor­ing,” SMUD spokesman Chris Capra said. “The news that other util­i­ties do­ing pub­lic safety shut­offs con­cerns us, and makes us watch a lit­tle more closely.”

Res­i­dents in many foothill ar­eas east of Sacra­mento will be af­fected. That in­cludes res­i­dents in some cities that are not con­sid­ered high fire haz­ard ar­eas, PG&E said. More than 100,000 cus­tomers could lose power in El Do­rado, Placer and Yolo coun­ties, in­clud­ing por­tions of Win­ters, Es­parto, Wood­land, Davis, Dun­ni­gan and Zamora.

“It is very pos­si­ble that cus­tomers may be af­fected by a power shut-off even though they are not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ex­treme weather in their area,” PG&E spokes­woman Brandi Merlo said. “That is be­cause the elec­tric sys­tem re­lies on power lines work­ing to­gether across cities, coun­ties and re­gions.”

PG&E of­fi­cials say the elec­tri­cal shut off will likely last in most ar­eas for at least 24 hours af­ter the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice ends its red flag wind alerts. Weather of­fi­cials say winds are ex­pected to die down at around noon or early af­ter­noon on Thurs­day.

“We have to wait for the weather ser­vice ‘all clear’ be­fore we send pa­trols out to in­spect the lines and make nec­es­sary re­pairs and help with restora­tion,” Merlo said. “We have de­ployed 45 he­li­copters and more than

700 on the ground field per­sonal.”

The out­age is ex­pected to be by far the largest pur­pose­ful shut-down , dwarf­ing PG&E’S Oct. 14,

2018 shut-off, the big­gest to date, when 59,000 cus­tomers in Lake and El Do­rado coun­ties lost power. The pre-emp­tive ac­tion is part of a con­tro­ver­sial new bat­tle plan the agency, other util­i­ties and the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion are em­ploy­ing af­ter sev­eral years of mas­sive wild­fires, many of them caused by power line fail­ures dur­ing high winds.

“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,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s se­nior VP of elec­tric op­er­a­tions. “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.”

PG&E and oth­ers have been send­ing alerts since Mon­day to res­i­dents, with ad­vice about how to sur­vive sev­eral days with­out elec­tric­ity dur­ing what the util­ity calls a “pub­lic safety power shut­off.”


Cal Fire said it has called crews in and de­ployed them at key spots around the state, an­tic­i­pat­ing the higher po­ten­tial for fire. Spokesman Scott McLean pointed out that PG&E’s dra­matic shut down will re­duce the chance of wild­fire, but fires can ig­nite for many other rea­sons, many of them caused by hu­mans.

“Some­one mow­ing or park­ing in dry grass, some­thing that cre­ates a spark,” McLean said.

Cal Fire of­fi­cials in pre­vi­ously fire-rav­aged Napa, Sonoma and Lake coun­ties will have he­li­copters in the air do­ing night re­con­nais­sance, look­ing to catch any fires early.

The state Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices is treat­ing the PG&E shut­down as an emer­gency event in it­self, and has called law en­force­ment and other emer­gency re­spon­ders to join it at the state com­mand cen­ter in the Sacra­mento area to mon­i­tor the ef­fects of the power shut­down.

“Be­cause of the sheer size of this, it rises to the level of a sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dent,” OES spokesman Brian Fer­gu­son.

In Butte County, which is still re­build­ing nearly a year af­ter last Novem­ber’s dev­as­tat­ing Camp Fire, emer­gency of­fi­cials were warn­ing res­i­dents to “Be Ready to Go!” ahead of Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s an­tic­i­pated winds.

De­spite emails, texts and au­to­mated calls, res­i­dents around the north state ex­pressed un­cer­tainty and anger about the last-minute warn­ings.

No­tably, a balky PG&E web­site slowed Tues­day af­ter­noon amid heavy traf­fic as res­i­dents sought in­for­ma­tion about when and where out­ages will start, adding to res­i­dents’ frus­tra­tion, with com­menters tak­ing to the util­ity’s Face­book page to vent.

”They don’t get it on so many lev­els! This is more than an in­con­ve­nience, it is a life chang­ing event,” Rose­mary Driskill posted. “They take con­trol of our house­hold when­ever they want, yet we still have to pay them, they ruin our food, they stop our TV, phone and in­ter­net yet we still have to pay those.

“They say they are do­ing this to save lives and prop­erty which they wouldn’t have to do if they would have done their job in the first place.”

An­other page vis­i­tor, Erika Rust, was more suc­cinct: “Once again, when it comes to pub­lic safety ... epic fail.”

In ru­ral Yuba County, where large swaths are tar­geted for PG&E man­dated black­outs, county Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices of­fi­cials at noon Tues­day were still try­ing to pin down the util­ity on the scope of the out­ages.

”We were hop­ing that PG&E would spec­ify/ nar­row their scope of which ar­eas would be af­fected by the shut­off ex­pected early (Wed­nes­day), but it looks like they are keep­ing it broad,” the county’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices said in a post on its Face­book page.

PG&E and pub­lic health of­fi­cials urge res­i­dents to think about what they need to sus­tain life and meet health care needs: Be sure you have wa­ter, non­per­ish­able food and a first-aid kit on hand. Make a plan to keep in­sulin and other re­frig­er­ated med­i­ca­tion cool. Know how to man­u­ally open garage doors and how to safely op­er­ate elec­tric gen­er­a­tors. If you aren’t well-versed in op­er­at­ing a gen­er­a­tor, you risk be­ing poi­soned by car­bon monox­ide, shocked, elec­tro­cuted or burned.

Here are a few other things to con­sider: If phar­ma­cies in your area close due to lack of power, do you have at least a week’s sup­ply of med­i­ca­tion on hand? Do you have bat­tery charg­ers for med­i­cal equip­ment and cell phones, and are they charged? Do you have enough gas in your ve­hi­cle to drive an hour to get med­i­cal equip­ment or emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices?

DANIEL KIM [email protected]

A PG&E worker uses clip­pers to cut down an elec­tric line on Sky­way road in Par­adise on Nov. 9, 2018.

DANIEL KIM [email protected]

Jamie Ya­mada, right, charges her phone as her daugh­ter, Ken­ley Fanopou­los, cel­e­brates while play­ing a video game at a re­source cen­ter in Oroville re­cently.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.