Lights Back On for More Than 335,000 PG&E Customers Who Lost Power in Safety Shutoff

PG&E power lines in Oakland during an unprecedented power cut by the utility to a large swath of Northern and Central California on Oct. 11, 2019. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Update, 10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27: PG&E reports that the process of restoring power to the wide area of Northern California that was blacked out during the high winds of the past 48-plus hours is nearing completion.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, the utility said that crews had gotten electricity flowing again to about 335,000 of the roughly 345,000 homes and businesses that had power shut off Sunday. The outages affected about 1 million people in 34 counties

Mark Quinlan, the PG&E executive who serves as the company's incident commander during public safety power shutoffs, said during a 6 p.m. briefing that all but 8,000 of the blacked-out customers should have their lights back on by late Tuesday night. That last group would probably have their lights on by midday Wednesday.

"We anticipate having power restored to those customers right around noon," Quinlan said. He said the delay in restoring electricity to those customers — located mostly in the central and northern Sierra Nevada foothills — was due to persistent high winds that had slowed the safety inspections the utility must complete before re-energizing its lines.

About 2,700 Bay Area customers in the shutoff zone still appeared to be without power as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, including about 1,400 in Napa County and 1,100 in Sonoma County.

Quinlan said that aerial and ground inspections of the thousands of miles of lines that had been shut off had found 130 instances of apparent wind damage, a number he said was certain to grow.

This week's shutoff was PG&E's fifth since early September and the biggest the utility has conducted this year. PG&E officials have emphasized during each of the 2020 wildfire safety outages that it has been focused on limiting the shutoffs' scope. This season's blackouts have been significantly smaller than those in late October 2019, when at one point nearly 1 million residences and commercial establishments — or about 3 million people — were left without power for an extended period.

The National Weather Service is forecasting continued dry, warm weather over the next week — but without a recurrence of the extreme winds that triggered this week's power shutoffs.

Update, 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27: PG&E said it had restored power to more than 228,000 of the approximately 345,000 customers who lost power in the wildfire safety shutoff that started Sunday amid high winds and extremely dry conditions.

As winds subsided, the utility said it gave the "all clear" Tuesday afternoon for crews to begin inspecting transmission and distribution lines in most areas still without power. PG&E officials said they expected to restore electricity to the roughly 117,000 customers still in the dark by late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

By noon Tuesday, about 44,000 customers in the nine-county Bay Area still did not have power, PG&E said. That included roughly 9,560 customers in Alameda, 9,130 in Contra Costa, 970 in Marin, 10,900 in Napa, 697 in San Mateo, 1,045 in Santa Clara, 47 in Solano and 14,400 in Sonoma.

Source: PG&E (Matthew Green/KQED)

PG&E crews have to inspect over 17,000 miles of power lines for damage or hazards before all customers have been restored, the utility said. That effort involves nearly 1,800 ground patrol units, 65 helicopters and one airplane. At least 36 instances of weather-related damage and hazards have so far been identified in the affected areas, the company said, including downed power lines and vegetation on lines that could have caused wildfire ignitions if the lines had not been de-energized.

The threat of wildfires sparked by the utility's equipment, however, was not over in many parts of PG&E’s vast service area. Although the red flag warnings for lower elevations in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz Mountains have expired, warnings were extended for the North Bay mountains and East Bay hills until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“Bone-dry” humidity could dry out vegetation, which can contribute to “catastrophic” fires, PG&E meteorology chief Scott Strenfel said Monday evening.

“The conditions are very, very unsafe," added Mark Quinlan, the utility's incident commander.

However, once the winds ease, the weather should remain calm through the weekend, Quinlan said.

Update, 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 27: PG&E said it had restored power to more than 156,000 customers by late Monday night, and expected to also turn the lights back for the roughly 189,000 remaining impacted customers by Tuesday night after crews do inspections to make repairs and ensure equipment is safe.

Nearly two dozen wildfires were reported in Northern California on Sunday night and Monday, but all were rapidly contained without serious damage.

Update, 8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 26: About 250,000 PG&E customers were still without power Monday evening following the worst fire weather event of the season in Northern and Central California, PG&E experts said at a virtual news briefing.

As of the 6 p.m. briefing, about 100,000 customers have had their power restored following the massive public safety power shutoff that started Sunday due to high winds forecasted for the region.

One gust Sunday was clocked at 89 mph on Mt. St. Helena.

The shutoff impacted some 355,000 customers in 34 counties and 17 tribal areas.

"As expected, this weather was quite extreme," PG&E's chief meteorologist Scott Strenfel said at the briefing.

All but two affected counties have been given either a full or partial all-clear, which means it's safe to turn on power, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E's incident commander.


But high winds are expected again Monday night into Tuesday, so many customers will likely not have power until after the winds subside Tuesday, Strenfel said, noting that even though the winds Monday night are not expected to be as strong as on Sunday, other conditions such as low humidity and dry fuels have increased fire danger.

After this event, no offshore high-wind events are forecasted for the next five days, but no rain is in sight either, Strenfel said.

Quinlan said this shutoff event is about 200,000 customers smaller than had been originally anticipated and about 50% smaller than it would have been last year, due to a variety of innovations, including improvements to the utility's meteorology equipment.

As power was restored to the roughly 100,000 customers Monday, crews identified 12 incidents of damage, at least one of which could have sparked a wildfire if power had been left on, Quinlan said.

Nearly 100 community resource centers will be open Monday night until 10 p.m. for people affected by the power shutoff, where customers can charge electronics and receive blankets, water and snacks. The centers will be open again at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Update, 4:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 26: As extremely windy conditions began to subside in much of the Bay Area late Monday afternoon, PG&E meteorologists issued the "all clear" for at least portions of the eight Bay Area counties impacted by power shutoffs, giving crews the go-ahead to inspect de-energized lines for any damage before restoring power.

The utility said it aims to restore power within 12 daylight hours to most of the more than 91,400 customers impacted in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.

Source: PG&E (Matthew Green/KQED)

However, the majority of customers in Northern California affected by PG&E's latest massive public safety power shutoff are not likely to have power restored until late Tuesday evening, after crews have completed inspections — by air and on foot — of more than 17,000 miles of power lines, the utility said.

PG&E began shutting off power late Sunday to about 1 million people in 34 counties — stretching from Fresno County in the south to Shasta County in the north. The move is an effort by the utility to minimize the chance its equipment might spark a catastrophic wildfire amid critical fire conditions, including winds gusting to nearly 90 mph in some locations and desert-like humidity falling into the single digits.

By Monday evening, fears of catastrophic, wind-sparked fires in the region were largely averted, with no major new blazes reported. In the Bay Area, one fast-moving vegetation fire ignited Monday afternoon in Solano County off of Petersen Road near Suisun City. Driven by winds of over 30 mph, the fire grew rapidly, spreading across more than 300 acres of mostly marshland within just a few hours and pumping plumes of thick black smoke into the air. But it was mostly contained by late afternoon and had not threatened any structures or prompted evacuations.

With extremely low humidity and breezy conditions continuing at higher elevations, a National Weather Service red flag warning will remain in effect for the North Bay and East Bay hills and mountains through at least late Tuesday afternoon.

The preemptive outages began Sunday morning in Shasta and Butte counties and slowly moved south as dangerous blustery, bone-dry weather spread down the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and made its way into the Bay Area and down the coast.

PG&E turned off power to North Bay locations between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, and around 8 p.m. in East Bay locations and 10 p.m. in some areas of the Peninsula, South Bay and Santa Cruz mountains.

As the shutoffs started late Sunday, winds increased in intensity, especially at higher elevations, particularly in the peaks and high ridges of northern Sonoma County and adjacent highlands.

A PG&E weather station atop Mount St. Helena, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, recorded sustained, hurricane-force winds of up to 76 mph and gusts as high as 89 mph. The crazy strength of those winds on the peak continued for hours, with gusts of 70 mph or more recorded every 10 minutes for more than five straight hours through midnight Sunday.

Nearby, winds gusted up to 79 mph at a PG&E weather station in the hills northeast of Healdsburg. Mount Hood, in the hills between Santa Rosa and the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, also recorded a 79 mph gust. Numerous locations throughout the region, including the East Bay hills and Santa Cruz Mountains, recorded gusts from the high 40s to 65 mph.

Fulfilling another part of the fire weather forecast that had developed in recent days, some lower elevation areas around the region also experienced high winds. Oakland International Airport recorded a 58 mph gust just before midnight.

Due to the high winds and fire danger, a significant number of parks in the East Bay hills operated by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) that were closed on Sunday will remain shut down through Monday. They include: Anthony Chabot, Claremont Canyon, Huckleberry, Lake Chabot, Leona Canyon, Redwood, Roberts, Sibley, Tilden, Wildcat Canyon and Kennedy Grove. Closure and reopening updates are available here.

Separately, the East Bay Municipal Utility District announced that the Lafayette and San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Areas and all the East Bay trails it operates would also remain closed Monday. EBMUD said it has deployed additional patrol rangers and is working with the EBRPD to post signs and close trail and recreation area entrances. Information on related closures and reopenings is available here.

Additionally, the Oakland Zoo will be closed Monday and possibly Tuesday. The zoo announced Monday morning that PG&E shut off its power, and advised visitors to check the zoo's website at 7 a.m. Tuesday to see if it will remain closed. Zoo officials said that anyone who purchased tickets for the annual "Boo at the Zoo" Halloween event at the park can use their existing tickets on Wednesday or Thursday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Backup generators are in place at the zoo to supply power to all animal-related habitats or facilities that require it, zoo officials said.

One piece of good news amid the scary weather and blackouts: As of Monday morning, no major fires had ignited anywhere in Northern California, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire engines and crews in Shasta County, aided by an aggressive air attack, contained a handful of small fires that started as the winds ramped up on Sunday morning. The blazes were largely contained by nightfall.

Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit reported that the Pope Fire, which started in the hills east of the Napa Valley late Friday afternoon, was 100% contained after burning 61 acres. The agency said crews would continue to monitor the perimeter during the current extreme fire weather.

Elsewhere in the North Bay late Sunday night, Cal Fire crews responded to two flareups in the area burned during the Glass Fire. Neither incident appeared to have spread beyond the footprint of the fire, which was 100% contained.

Update, 5:01 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25: More than 199,000 PG&E customers are without power as planned shutoffs to prevent wildfires continue, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

The National Weather Service is predicting strong and gusty winds across the San Francisco Bay Area starting Sunday evening and lasting through Monday morning, prompting red flag warnings and wind advisories throughout the region.

Local authorities are taking extra precautions. Berkeley has increased police patrols in the hills, positioned additional fire staff and engines and deployed a Forestry Task Force to clear roads. Muir Woods and other parks will be closed on Monday.

Some wildfires were reported just south of Redding on Sunday, according to Cal Fire.

The Point Fire, Dersch Fire, and Olinda Fire all were reported Sunday and have burned 275, 50, and 5 acres, respectively. The Point Fire is 70% contained as of about 4:55 p.m., the Olinda Fire is 60% contained, and the Dersch Fire is 0% contained, according to Cal Fire.

Update, 4:04 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25: Roughly 111,000 PG&E customers have lost power so far in planned shutoffs to prevent wildfires, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Many of the shutoffs are in Shasta County, with more than 25,000 PG&E customers affected, and Butte County, with 13,000 customers without power. The first Bay Area outages have also begun, with just over 11,000 PG&E customers in Sonoma County without power. 

Those planned power outages will continue throughout the Bay Area, PG&E confirmed, with parts of Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties losing power after 3 p.m. Some PG&E customers in Marin will then lose power at roughly 6 p.m., followed by some in Alameda at 8 p.m. and parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties at 10 p.m.

A red flag warning for the North Bay mountains and East Bay hills has been extended through 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service Bay Area. A red flag warning for the Santa Cruz mountains and some coastal regions runs through 11 a.m. Monday morning.

While power has been shut off out of fear the weekend's high winds would create a fire danger, some wildfires have been reported just south of Redding, according to Cal Fire.

The Point Fire, Dersch Fire, and Olinda Fire all were reported Sunday and have burned 225, 50, and 20 acres, respectively. The Point Fire is 30% contained as of about 1 p.m., and the Dersch and Olinda Fires are 0% contained, according to Cal Fire.

Update, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 25: PG&E has started cutting off power to Northern California counties to prevent wildfires, as the region braces for dangerously high winds.

Parts of the town of Redding, as well as Shasta and Glenn counties are currently without some power, according to PG&E's outage map, with a potential 361,000 customers in 36 counties awaiting similar power outages. That's fewer people than PG&E's initial estimates Saturday, as the utility responds to updated weather forecasts and tries methods like "islanding" and "microgrids" to preserve power in some communities.

Islanding is a method of preserving power in local generating stations for some counties, even if power lines are cut off from the rest of the state, PG&E incident commander Mark Quinlan said in a virtual town hall Saturday evening. Microgrids are small communities powered by generators at provided by PG&E, allowing shopping districts and gas stations to remain powered for communities, he said.

"We can keep the local areas safe, and on, and energized, and take out and de-energize the lines that traverse through that rough country," Quinlan said.

When PG&E meteorologists give the all-clear, he said, PG&E staff patrol its power lines to ensure they're safe to turn back on. Service is expected to return between late Monday and midday Tuesday.

Due to the fire danger, Mt. Tamalpais watershed has closed until 5 p.m. Tuesday. The East Bay Regional Park District announced the closures of parks from Sunday through Monday:

  • Anthony Chabot Regional Park (including Anthony Chabot campground)
  • Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve
  • Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
  • Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area
  • Lake Chabot Regional Park
  • Leona Canyon Open Space Regional Preserve
  • Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
  • Roberts Regional Recreation Area
  • Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
  • Tilden Regional Park
  • Wildcat Canyon Regional Park (including Alvarado Park)

Update, 8:25 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24: PG&E is narrowing somewhat the footprint for a large-scale wildfire-safety power outage expected Sunday, when a strong, gusty winds and extremely low humidity are forecast over most of the northern half of California.

National Weather Service offices across the North State have issued red flag warnings that take effect Sunday morning and last at least through Monday night.

In an updated list of potential outages posted Saturday evening, PG&E said that about 374,000 customers in parts of 38 counties — or more than 1.1 million people if one uses the U.S. Census Bureau estimate of about 3 people per California household — could lose power during the upcoming shutoffs. In its initial notice Friday night, the utility had put that number at 466,000.

The company says shutoffs could begin in some Northern California counties as early as 8 a.m. Sunday. In the Bay Area, the utility anticipates starting shutoffs in early to mid-afternoon for North Bay and East Bay locations and Sunday evening on the Peninsula, in the South Bay and in Santa Cruz County.

About 97,000 Bay Area customers in eight counties could lose power in the blackout — the fifth that PG&E has used to minimize the danger of its equipment sparking wildfires during periods of dangerous fire weather.

Forecasts from both the National Weather Service and PG&E suggest winds will be at their strongest Sunday night and will begin to subside early morning.

"PG&E will then patrol the de-energized lines to assess whether they were damaged during the wind event," the utility said in a press release Saturday. The company estimates some customers could have their lights back on by Monday night. Outages in most areas are expected to last through late Tuesday.

In Berkeley, the city advised residents of neighborhoods in the hills they "should consider relocating to lower elevations before high winds begin Sunday at 4 p.m." But the city's message added that it was not a formal order to evacuate.

The Oakland Unified School District emailed parents saying at least 11 schools may be affected by the power shutoffs. It may also affect households where students are attending class online, remotely. OUSD advised students to complete work and check-in at a later time.

Schools potentially affected by the power shutdown include:

◦ Chabot Elementary
◦ Community Day
◦ Grass Valley Elementary
◦ Hillcrest K-8
◦ Joaquin Miller Elementary
◦ Laurel Elementary
◦ Montclair Elementary
◦ Montera Middle School
◦ Redwood Heights Elementary
◦ Skyline High School
◦ Thornhill Elementary

The weather outlook led at least two Bay Area park districts to close facilities during the red flag warning: East Bay Regional Parks said it will close 11 parks in the East Bay hills on Sunday and Monday because of the fire threat. The Napa County Open Space District announced Moore Creek Park and the Oat Hill Mine Trail will be off-limits Sunday through Tuesday. Some other parks in the Napa district remain closed because of damage suffered in the Glass Fire.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District also announced that trails on its lands and its Lafayette and San Pablo reservoir recreation areas will be closed Sunday and Monday because of the weather.

Original post, Oct. 23: Firefighting agencies across the Bay Area and Northern California are preparing for a wind event late this weekend that forecasters say may be the most severe — and dangerous — so far this year.

The forecast for dangerously dry, windy weather prompted PG&E to issue a notice Friday evening of potential wildfire-safety outages covering 466,000 customers in 38 counties. It's by far the largest safety blackouts executed this year, and reminiscent of a shutoff exactly a year ago in which about one million customers had their lights turned off.

The utility said the outages, which could include about 140,000 in the Bay Area, could begin Sunday afternoon and last through at least Monday night.

National Weather Service offices throughout the North State posted red flag warnings for a period of strong, gusty winds and extremely low humidity that, combined with critically dry grasses, brush and timberlands, pose a critical fire threat throughout the region.

In the Bay Area, what the NWS Bay Area office called a "damaging burst of winds" will arrive in the North Bay — especially in the mountains of Napa County — by late afternoon Sunday. High winds will then move south into the East Bay Hills and then the rest of the region.

Unlike more typical wind events, forecasters say that the coming windstorm will also bring violent gusts to the region's valleys and coastal locations at sea level.

The office's statement warned that any new fire starts after winds pick up Sunday "will be very problematic" as winds are expected to increase in intensity during the evening and remain strong overnight.

Winds are forecast to begin to ease Monday, but red flag warnings in the Bay Area will be in force through late Tuesday morning.

Cal Fire and local fire agencies are readying for the windstorm's onset by mobilizing strike teams of engines, hand crews and other resources for deployment on Sunday.

On Friday, Cal Fire was preparing "additional ground resources and air assets and putting them in strategic locations around the state where we recognize there's going to be elevated fire potential," said Jonathan Cox, an agency spokesman and deputy chief.

He said that Cal Fire was also working with local fire departments to pre-position engines and personnel to help in the initial attack on any wildfires that start.

"If fires break out, that helps us get sufficient resources to them — and that's really our priority this weekend, getting resources to the right location," Cox said.

The weather outlook led at least two Bay Area park districts to close facilities during the red flag warning: East Bay Regional Parks said it will close 11 parks in the East Bay hills on Sunday and Monday because of the fire threat. The Napa County Open Space District announced Moore Creek Park and the Oat Hill Mine Trail will be off-limits Sunday through Tuesday. Some other parks in the Napa district remain closed because of damage suffered in the Glass Fire.

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Among the local emergency agencies getting ready is the Napa County Fire Department, which has already fought two huge, challenging wildland blazes this year: the LNU Complex Fire and the Glass Fire.

Chief Geoff Belyea said the department, which includes 60 "career" firefighters, 170 volunteer personnel and seasonal Cal Fire crews, had already received increased staffing earlier this week with two five-engine strike teams from outside agencies.

Belyea acknowledged it's been a tough year, but says his crews are ready.

"We have a really dedicated group of firefighters that really don’t have a lot of quit in ‘em," Belyea said. "They take protecting their community very seriously. And while we're all tired and looking forward to the end of fire season, whenever that is, they still want to be out there if we have another large fire. We hope we don't, but they’re ready to rise up to the challenge if it presents itself again."

As to the end of fire season, it's still nowhere in sight, with dry weather forecast into early November.

This post includes additional reporting from KQED's Matthew Green and Bay City News.

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