PG&E to cut power in eastern Napa County as North Bay has first red flag fire warning of 2019

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is from Friday, reporting on a planned power outage overnight into Saturday. That outage for customers in Napa, Yolo and Solano counties, was terminated Saturday afternoon. Restoration of power was underway Saturday evening, according to PG&E. For the latest story on fire conditions and planned outages, click here.

A windy, hot and dry weekend forecast has prompted the first red flag warning for parts of the North Bay in 2019, potentially leading to power outages over the weekend for thousands of area residents.

The National Weather Service on Friday morning warned that high-risk fire weather would return to Wine Country starting Friday night and last through Sunday afternoon for parts of Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties above 1,000 feet, including the Mayacamas Mountains and the hills of western Sonoma County.

Winds are expected to gust up to 50 mph Friday and Saturday on local peaks — potentially reaching 60 mph on Mt. St. Helena — with temperatures projected to get near or above 90 degrees, according to the weather service.

While trees and flowering brush might still be wet from May’s rains, potential fire fuels like grasses have already started to dry out, said Spencer Tangen, a weather service meteorologist. That development, combined with the potential for spiking wind speeds and dropping humidity, prompted the warning, he said.

“A lot of those finer fuels are really drying out and will be able to carry a fire,” Tangen said, referring to leaves and grasses in higher elevations that can fuel the rapid spread of flames.

PG&E announced late Friday it planned to shut off power to about 1,300 customers in eastern Napa County. The shutoff around the Lake Berryessa, Circle Oaks, Wooden Valley and Gordon Valley areas were set to begin at 6 a.m. Saturday, with affected customers set to be notified directly by PG&E. Smaller areas in Solano and Yolo counties were also set to be affected.

“We know how much our customers rely on electric service and would only consider temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety during extreme weather conditions,” Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations, said in a statement.

The utility’s equipment has been blamed for sparking numerous wildfires over the past few years, including the Camp fire in Butte County, which killed 85 people last year and destroyed more than 10,000 homes in and around the town of Paradise. State regulators recently approved a new wildfire prevention plan featuring expanded capabilities for PG&E to shut off power indefinitely to broad regions of Northern California.

Sonoma County officials held a conference call Friday afternoon to coordinate with meteorologists and local public safety and government officials in light of the red flag warning, said Chris Godley, the county’s emergency management director. He said it was important for residents to communicate with each other and not rely solely on government when preparing for the potential impacts of the weather.

“It really does come down to people being able to maintain their own situational awareness and being able to take action,” he said.

The weather service has issued a heat advisory covering Santa Rosa and other North Bay valley areas on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with forecasts calling for record or near-record high temperatures.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt advised residents against mowing or trimming their lawns, kindling campfires, smoking cigarettes and driving with loose trailer chains. The first red flag warning of the year is a good opportunity to take stock of how one might evacuate if necessary, he said, noting that the spell of dry and windy weather was unlikely to be the last.

“This is the first of undoubtedly many to come, unfortunately,” he said.

More information about wildfire preparedness can be found at socoemergency.org.

Red flag warnings are generally more common in late summer after months of dry and hot weather, but Tangen noted that it wasn’t unusual to see such an advisory in early June.

Similar weather conditions were expected in Mendocino and Lake counties, but those areas are not yet under red flag warnings or fire weather watches Friday.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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