PG&E Begins Restoring Power to Thousands of Blacked-Out Customers, as Strong Winds Subside

A PG&E contractor works on utility poles along Highway 128 near Geyserville, California on October 31, 2019. (Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images)

Update, 8:10 p.m. Friday: In a press release, PG&E officials said power has restored to "essentially all" customers impacted by the shutoffs by early Friday evening.

Update, 9:30 a.m Friday: The National Weather Service extended its red flag warning for high fire danger through 6 p.m. Friday for the East Bay valleys and hills, North Bay valleys and mountains and the Santa Cruz mountains. The warnings were previously set to expire on Friday morning when gusty winds are expected to begin dying down. But humidity levels are now forecast to remain low throughout the day, with temperatures "well above normal," prolonging hot, dry conditions that increase fire risk,  NWS Bay Area tweeted. Weekend temperatures are expected to cool slightly, but conditions will likely remain dry with no precipitation forecasted for the next week.

Update, 12:40 a.m. Friday: PG&E says that it has already begun the process of restoring power to customers in the Oakland Hills and South Bay who were blacked out Wednesday night as part of a wildfire-safety power shutoff.

In a 6 p.m. Thursday briefing, PG&E incident commander Mark Quinlan said the company had gotten a "weather all clear" for Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties and had begun the process of inspecting lines for wind-inflicted damage before re-energizing them.

The company later said that roughly 10,000 customers in those counties would have their lights back on by late Thursday night.

Quinlan also said the scope of the outages initiated Wednesday evening were not as expansive as had been earlier announced. PG&E had previously said about 53,000 customers in 24 counties would be blacked out as high winds and extremely dry conditions prompted the National Weather Service to post a red flag warning for most of the northern half of California.

But Quinlan said the total number of customers who lost power, as of late Thursday, had been reduced to about 41,000. His briefing listed 19 counties where blackouts had occurred, with targeted areas of Sierra, Placer, El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties spared from the outages.

However, the actual number of customers who experienced shutoffs is still unclear, and likely won't be confirmed until the utility submits its report to the California Public Utilities Commission at the end of the month.

"The numbers in the counties have shifted around a little bit because of changing weather conditions," Quinlan said. "We've been able to monitor those conditions all day and make real-time adjustments and bring people back earlier than originally anticipated."

The company estimated that 32,000 customers were without power as of 6 p.m. Wednesday. Those were scattered across the North Bay, the northern Sierra Nevada and in the northwestern counties of Humboldt and Trinity.

Winds in some of those northern locales increased sharply late Thursday into early Friday, with one PG&E remote weather station near Healdsburg recording gusts over 70 mph.

The winds are forecast to subside after dawn Friday, and PG&E says it aims to restore power in the North Bay and other affected areas by late Friday night.

Update, 10 a.m. Thursday: More than 50,000 utility customers across California were without power Thursday morning as a fall heat wave brings another round of extreme wildfire danger.

The National Weather Service issued heat advisories through Friday for temperatures in the 90s and even triple digits in many parts of the state. Red flag warnings for extreme fire danger were in place for much of the Bay Area, with expected hot, dry gusts of up to 55 mph that could spark new blazes.

PG&E began shutting off power Wednesday evening to customers in portions of 24 counties. The heat wave also prompted California’s electrical grid operator to issue a statewide “Flex Alert,” urging people to conserve energy from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday by turning down their air conditioners and not using major appliances.

Update, 5:05 p.m. Wednesday: PG&E has confirmed that it will begin conducting wildfire safety power shutoffs across the northern half of California within the next few hours.

The outages, as currently planned, will affect just under 53,000 customers scattered across 24 counties — including some 22,000 customers in seven Bay Area counties.

About 9,000 customers in Napa County and 5,000 in the Oakland Hills will be impacted by the shutoff.

Outages in the North Bay, which include pockets of Sonoma and Solano counties, could begin as early as 6 p.m. Blackouts in the East Bay Hills and South Bay and into Santa Cruz County are slated to begin as early as 8 p.m.

PG&E says it expects to begin restoring power during the day Friday, when high winds that prompted National Weather Service red flag warnings for critical fire weather are expected to ease. The company says it aims to have the lights back on for all customers by late Friday night.

Aside from the Bay Area, PG&E says it will shut off power in some Sierra Nevada foothill communities from north of Yosemite all the way up to Shasta County. A small area of Humboldt and Trinity counties are also scheduled to be blacked out Thursday.

Original post, 4 p.m. Tuesday: More than 50,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers across 21 counties — including more than 22,000 Bay Area customers — could lose power by Wednesday evening as part of an effort by the utility to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires ahead of expected hot, dry and windy conditions.

High fire-risk conditions are forecast to begin Wednesday evening, the utility said, with strong winds likely to subside Thursday morning in some locations and Friday morning in others.

Power Shutoff Resources

PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said the utility sent initial notifications on Monday to customers who might lose power in the public safety power shutoff, as it's called, with some parts of every Bay Area county potentially impacted, except for San Francisco and Marin.

Based on recent forecasts, the power shutoffs are most likely to impact customers in the North Bay mountains near Mt. St. Helena, small pockets of the East Bay near Mt. Diablo, the Oakland Hills east of Piedmont, the hills east of Milpitas near the Calaveras Reservoir and portions of the Santa Cruz and Big Sur mountains, the utility said.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, lasting from Wednesday morning through Friday morning, for a large swath of the outer Bay Area and beyond, forecasting hot, dry conditions and strong wind gusts across the region, particularly overnight at higher elevations.

Parts of the Northern Sierra Nevada foothills and mid- and high elevations in the Sierra north of Yosemite are also likely to experience outages.

Check If You'll Be Affected


Following strong winds that prompt a shutoff, PG&E workers will inspect the de-energized lines for any damage and attempt to restore power to most customers within 12 daylight hours after the end of the weather event, Sarkissian said.

This marks PG&E's third major preventative shutoff event this fall; one in late September left nearly 100,000 Northern California homes and businesses in the dark for about 36 hours, and another earlier that month impacted some 167,000 customers.

The company said it plans to open community resource centers in areas where power has been cut. All locations, it said, will adhere to COVID-19 health protocols, and provide ADA-accessible restrooms and hand-washing stations, charging stations for medical equipment and WiFi, and water and snacks.

"We're trying to make this process smoother for our customers," Sarkissian said. "We're working really closely with community organizations and partnering with independent living centers."

The company has also pledged to significantly shorten the length of its shutoffs by increasing restoration crews, nearly doubling its surveillance helicopter fleet and making major infrastructure improvements.

“We are trying to make these events smaller, shorter and smarter for our customers,” she said.

That comes after the already embattled company was fiercely criticized following a series of public safety power shutoffs last fall that cut power to millions of customers, including many throughout the Bay Area, some for days on end.

At the time, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, excoriated PG&E and other for-profit utilities for the chaos and poor communication. Local emergency officials said they did not get timely information to relay to residents, particularly those with medical conditions who couldn't power their life-saving devices.

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PG&E's aging equipment has previously sparked some of the state's worst wildfires, including the 2018 Camp Fire. The deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, that blaze razed much of the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. The utility pleaded guilty in June to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and paid $25.5 billion in settlements to cover the losses from fires sparked by its power lines.

As recently as last week, Cal Fire took possession of some PG&E equipment as part of an investigation into the cause of the now nearly contained Zogg Fire in Shasta County, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Friday by the utility.

That fire killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.

This story includes additional reporting from KQED's Dan Brekke and Bay City News.

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