In response to extreme dry and windy conditions expected this weekend, Pacific Gas & Electric said it may turn off power in portions of 12 counties in Northern California to prevent fires from sparking.
PG&E officials said the move was prompted by extreme fire danger and a red flag warning issued by National Weather Service on Saturday morning. Depending on weather forecasts, the utility could turn off power this weekend to as many as 87,000 customers in high fire risk areas throughout Northern California, including the North Bay.
In an announcement issued shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, the utility warned it may shut down power in the most dangerous areas over the next 24 hours, citing high winds expected Sunday evening and lasting into Monday morning.
If carried out, the intentional blackouts would be the first time the utility has implemented its new “Public Safety Power Shutoff,” PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers in the communities that we serve,” Contreras said. “We know how much our customers rely on electric services and we would only consider temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety and as a last resort during extreme weather conditions.”
Customers who have signed up for PG&E wildfire alerts have been notified of the possible shut-off, and will likely get updates through the weekend, Contreras said. Customers are being contacted directly via automated calls, texts and emails, she said.
“There will be more details on what portions of the county might could be impacted as we get further weather reports this evening,” Contreras said Saturday night.
PG&E has also contacted first responders in high-risk areas to let them know about the potential power shut-off. Contreras said “the most critical time to watch the weather forecast” is from 11 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday and then again from 6 p.m. Sunday to 10 a.m. Monday.
Contreras stressed that the shut-off operation is only a possibility and depends on the severity of the weather.
Sonoma County emergency officials have put into motion a plan to respond to any potential blackouts.
“This would be the first event of its kind in Sonoma County and we are ready for the challenges it may bring,” James Gore, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.
In Sonoma County, PG&E is considering turning off power in high-risk areas of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale.
In Lake County, the utility is targeting areas in Clearlake, Clearlake Oaks, Clearlake Park, Cobb, Finley, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Lakeport, Lower Lake and Middletown.
In Napa County, areas include Angwin, Calistoga, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Napa, Pope Valley and St. Helena. Outages are also being considered in Yuba, Butte, Sierra, Placer, Nevada, El Dorado, Amador, Plumas and Calaveras counties.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for much of Northern California on Saturday, as dry, windy conditions were expected throughout the weekend.
The biggest threats in the region were to elevations above 1,000 feet in Napa County, as well as areas in eastern Sonoma County, where the driest conditions and strongest winds are most likely, the Weather Service said.
What is a red flag warning?
A warning issued by the National Weather Service to alert people to an ongoing or imminent critical fire weather pattern. The warning alerts land management agencies to the potential for widespread new ignitions or control problems with existing fires, both of which could pose a threat to life and property.
It is issued when it is an ongoing event or the fire weather forecaster has a high degree of confidence that Red Flag criteria will occur within 48 hours of issuance. Red flag criteria is based on local area vegetation characteristics, local climatology, select weather criteria and/or any combination of critical weather and fuel moisture forecasts. In some states, dry lightning and unstable air are criteria. A fire weather watch may be issued prior to the red flag warning.
Source: National Weather Service