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PG&E to cut power in Napa, Sonoma counties as part of broader planned outage

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. plans to cut off electricity to an estimated 3,400 customers in Sonoma and Napa counties early Thursday as part of a broader planned power shut-off across parts of Northern California aimed at preventing the utility’s equipment from sparking new fires during a period of hazardous weather.

Roughly 135 homes and businesses in Sonoma County, all of which are in unincorporated land east of Healdsburg down to the Sonoma-Napa county line near Calistoga, will see their power turned off as early as 3 a.m. Thursday, according to company officials. Nearly 3,300 customers within Napa County will be impacted by the planned outages at around the same time, said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.

Almost 130 homes and businesses in Lake County will also be affected.

The power restoration process, which includes inspections of the utility’s power lines for damage caused by strong winds, is expected to begin sometime Friday morning for the three counties and could take up to 12 hours, Sarkissian said.

As a whole, the shut-offs will affect about 37,000 homes and businesses in 15 Northern California counties, some of which PG&E planned to cut off power to as early as Wednesday evening.

The impact of the planned outage was smaller than anticipated in an earlier PG&E forecast that put the scope of the electric shut-off at 54,000 of the utility’s customers in 19 California counties, Sarkissian said.

Improved weather conditions were part of the decision to roll back shut-offs in some areas, she added.

“As we’re tracking the weather, we really adjust the number of customers and the counties affected based on the weather changes,” Sarkissian said.

The first of the power shut-offs on Wednesday began hours before the start of another red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service for the North Bay and Santa Cruz mountains, East Bay hills and the San Mateo County coastline.

The red flag warning weather conditions, which are expected to last through 8 a.m. Friday, include a mix of low humidity levels, dry vegetation and strong winds that, when combined, have the potential of catapulting small fires into massive out-of-control blazes.

A stretch of dry weather is expected to continue over the weekend and into next week, said Brayden Murdock, a weather service meteorologist. Winds will be the deciding factor if it will warrant a red flag warning, he said, and the current modeling technology cannot accurately predict winds until it’s closer to an event.

Forecasts show the North Bay could go the entire month of October without rain. While Santa Rosa saw a trace amount of precipitation during the Aug. 17 lightning storm, the most recent measurable rain — 0.1 inch or more — was May 18, Murdock said.

The current dry spell of 156 days is above the 129-day seasonal average for Santa Rosa and is tied with 1932 for the 19th-longest dry stretch on record, he said. The longest in recorded history was 295 days from Dec. 17, 1978 to Oct. 9, 1979.

With the lack of rain in the forecast, the 2020 dry stretch will be further cemented in local history.

“We might call October completely dry and go into November hoping for some rain,” Murdock said.

You can reach Staff Writers Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com and Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com.

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