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PG&E to cut off power to nearly 800,000 customers to reduce wildfire risk

Pacific Gas and Charged (PG&E) workers remain at the scene of a three-alarm fire that started after a construction crew hit a gas line on February 7, 2019 in San Francisco, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Figures

Nearly 800,000 California homes and businesses can expect to lose electricity for up to several days from Wednesday, in a organized PG&E power shutdown of unprecedented scale due to heightened wildfire risks from high winds, the utility said.

Pacific Gas & Thrilling Co, a unit of PG&E, said on Tuesday it was extending a previously announced “public safety power shutoff” to 34 counties in northern and significant California, marking the largest such precautionary outage the utility has undertaken to date.

Power will be turned off to communities in phases, starting in northern California, just after 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, depending on the timing of high-wind conditions locally, PG&E mentioned in a statement.

Sustained gale-force winds were expected to last through midday Thursday, with isolated blows of up to 70 miles per hour, the utility said. Once power is turned off, it cannot be restored until winds diminish, allowing PG&E to inspect equipment for damage and make any repairs, it said.

“We’re telling customers to be prepared for an outage that could last a sprinkling days,” PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian told Reuters.

PG&E has come under increased scrutiny in recent years finished maintenance of transmission wires and other equipment implicated in a number of major wildfires.

In May, state fire investigators steady that PG&E transmission lines caused the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California, the wind-driven Camp Alight that killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise last year.

Cal Fire likewise concluded that PG&E power formulates had sparked a separate flurry of wildfires that swept California’s wine country north of San Francisco Bay in 2017.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing hidden civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from the North Bay and Camp Fires.

Red-flag warning

The California Area of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said “red-flag” warnings were posted across the entire state for what was fit up to be the strongest wind event so far this season.

The scope of the planned outage, extending to over half of California’s 58 counties, last will and testament far exceed the very first public safety power shutoff declared by PG&E in October of last year, which impacted 60,000 guys, Sarkissian said.

Some consumer advocates have objected to the precautionary disruptions, saying they can harm people who want electricity for medical equipment.

But PG&E promised to open community centers in 30 locations across the latest planned outage zone to equip restrooms, bottled water, battery charging and air-conditioned seating during daytime hours.

Sarkissian said PG&E had berthed 45 helicopter crews and 700 extra ground personnel on standby for inspections and repairs once the latest close out event is over. Some equipment locations will require workers to hike into remote or mountainous arrondissements for lack of vehicle access, she said.

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