Massive Power Shutoffs to Begin Early Wednesday, PG&E Confirms

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PG&E Wildfire Safety Operations Center in San Francisco opened earlier this year to monitor potential wildfire threats and outages in the service area. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 4:20 p.m.

PG&E is warning residents across Northern and Central California of widespread power shutoffs this week that will affect up to 800,000 customers. The preemptive power shutoffs come amid concerns of high fire risk due to gusty winds and dry conditions.

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The utility announced Tuesday that customers in parts of 34 of the state's 58 counties will have their electricity cut between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon. The shutoffs will now affect every county in the Bay Area except for San Francisco.

PG&E also confirmed Tuesday afternoon that shutoffs would begin just after midnight and would be done in stages, depending on the local weather in a community. Shutoffs would begin in the northern part of the state. But "the situation is very fluid," said PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado, and their meteorologists are tracking the ongoing weather conditions.

Michael Lewis, senior vice president of PG&E's electric operations, said it could take "several days to fully restore power after the weather passes and safety inspections are completed."

Bay Area counties and the total number of estimated customers who may be impacted:

  • Alameda County, including parts of Oakland: 32,680
  • Contra Costa County: 51,310
  • Marin County: 9,855
  • Napa County: 32,124
  • San Mateo County: 14,766
  • Santa Clara County, including parts of San Jose: 38,250
  • Solano County: 32,862
  • Sonoma County: 66,289

PG&E is updating the full list of cities and regions potentially impacted on its website, although its website has been down much of Tuesday afternoon.

The city of Lafayette notified residents by email that they should expect power to be off in Moraga, Orinda and Lafayette starting around 4 a.m. on Wednesday.

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Alameda County also notified residents by email that PG&E would likely be cutting off power to more than 35,000 residences and businesses and that power could be off for up to five days. San Jose has begun attempting to prepare residents for what will be the first major public safety power outage in the city.

Because of the large number of people who could be affected, PG&E has said it may take multiple days to restore power to everyone.

Tostado added that they understand how important it is to have functioning power, but safety is their priority and with the increased risk of fires, "this is the new normal," she said.

The shutoff warning is by far the largest the utility has issued since it began conducting public safety power shutoffs in 2018.

PG&E's announcement comes amid warnings from the National Weather Service (NWS) of an extreme weather event in communities stretching across northern parts of the state, with some of the windiest conditions of the season starting late Tuesday.

NWS meteorologist Wilfred Pi said winds — especially in the hills and valleys — will start picking up Tuesday night and get much stronger Wednesday and Thursday.

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"The models have been pretty consistent in the last couple of days," he said. "Just the fact that it's been so consistent, it gives us high confidence that this is going to be probably the strongest wind event of the season."

High winds from offshore and low overnight humidity create dangerous conditions for wildfires. A spark can quickly be carried by the wind and ignite additional fires.

In the Bay Area, the NWS issued a red flag warning for the North and East Bay hills, the Santa Cruz Mountains and the North and East Bay valleys beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

"This time of year is typically when the fuels — the grass, the trees, things that burn — are typically the driest," said NWS meteorologist Steve Anderson. "And with the dry air, that just sucks any remaining moisture out of the fuels and makes them much more readily able to catch fire."

The Power Shutoff Program
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The extreme wind will likely peak Wednesday night through early Thursday morning, with gusts of 45 to 55 mph in the North Bay mountains and East Bay hills.

A previous red flag warning this past weekend prompted PG&E to cut power to more than 10,000 customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Saturday evening. Power was restored to all of those customers by Sunday afternoon, but many of them could be affected again later this week.

Preemptive shutoffs are part of PG&E's state-mandated wildfire mitigation plan, which aims to cut down on the potential of igniting a fire during high risk periods. You can check PG&E's website and sign up to be notified if the power will be turned off in your area.

Monday's announcement came almost two years after the start of the deadly North Bay fires in which 44 were killed. Since then, fires caused by electrical equipment have killed more than 130 people and burned more than 20,000 homes statewide.

PG&E's equipment has been found responsible for starting the most devastating wildfire in modern California history — last November's Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes.

This post has been updated.

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