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PG&E cuts power to 17,000 customers in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties due to dangerous fire weather

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Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to more than 17,000 customers in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties Sunday night as part of a new effort from the utility company to help prevent wildfires from starting during periods of particularly dangerous weather.

The outages were a historic step for PG&E, which has never proactively cut power before but since last year’s Northern California wildfires has now embraced the strategy when high winds, low humidity and warm temperatures combine to create conditions ripe for large and destructive fires.

As of about 8 p.m. Sunday, most of the outages were concentrated in Lake County. PG&E had planned outages for 11,000 customers there, spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said earlier in the day.

About 5,700 customers in Napa County and more than 400 in Sonoma County’s unincorporated northeastern areas were to be affected as well, she added.

PG&E’s announcement came as winds were gusting between 25 and 45 mph across many of the hills in the greater North Bay and even faster at the tallest elevations. A red-flag warning from the National Weather Service is in effect through noon Monday.

Another 70,000 PG&E customers in the Sierra foothills were set to lose power as well.

Power was set to be restored to most customers by Monday night, but some outages will last into Tuesday, the utility said.

The highest winds observed early in the evening were on Mount St. Helena, where gusts reached up to 72 mph, said meteorologist Duane Dykema.

“That’s pretty extreme,” he said.

Winds were projected to pick up overnight night, with North Bay hills reaching up to 30 to 50 mph and up to 70 mph on the higher peaks, Dykema siad. Humidity levels were forecast to linger in the teens and low 20 degrees overnight. Dykema expected conditions to improve by tomorrow afternoon.

Sonoma County emergency services officials said earlier Sunday they planned to send a message through the county’s SoCo Alert system to warn residents about potential impacts should PG&E cut power.

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chairman James Gore said the county was trying to be proactive.

“This is one of the ways we are coordinating with our utilities and partners to utilize all channels to help share public safety information,” he said in a statement.

PG&E started sending automated voice messages, texts and emails to customers late Saturday and early Sunday, warning them their power might be turned off beginning Sunday evening.

Customers who rely on electricity to power life-saving medical equipment received an extra layer of notification, Contreras said. If such a customer did not respond to an automated call, a staff member made another call, and if that did not go through, a PG&E truck was dispatched to that address, she said.

PG&E said the Lake County outages reached into Clearlake, Clear Lake Oaks, Clear Lake Park, Cobb, Finley, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Lakeport, Lower Lake and Middletown. Clearlake Creativity, Hance Schools and Konocti Unified Schools were set to be closed Monday because of the outages.

In Napa County, the communities affected by outages included Angwin, Calistoga, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Napa, Pope Valley and Saint Helena, according to PG&E.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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