Updated Aug. 19
Powerful dry winds that started blowing the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug 17, caused Pacific Gas & Electric to cut off power to 51,000 customers in 18 counties to prevent power equipment from igniting fires. It was the utility’s first preventative power outage this summer.
The utility blacked out 23,000 customers in Shasta and Butte counties. Another 28,000 in 16 other counties in central and northern counties in the state also had their power disrupted.
Two days earlier, PG&E had alerted 48,000 customers that their power may be cut off to avert lines sparking fires in expected threatening weather conditions. The shutoff’s impact was a moving target because of the challenge of weather forecasting.
Tuesday morning, PG&E warned that sustained winds of 40 mph were expected from Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon in the foothills and mountains. The statement cited National Weather Service fire weather watches in the areas “based on forecasts for dry, northerly winds and low relative humidity.”
Included in its shutoffs is equipment that has been inspected, is slated for repair “and could be a risk ignition,” Spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian told Current.
By late Wednesday evening, the utility had restored power to about 27,000 customers, it stated Aug. 19. Power to all customers was expected to be restored by Thursday evening. PG&E also reported there were wind speeds of 56 mph in Butte County and 55 mph in Tehama County.
Tighter shutoff parameters
In early June, state regulators tightened utility shutoff protocols to reduce the number and extent of outages during risky fire conditions. They required improve communications with emergency response personnel and customers.
PG&E could face debilitating liability if it is proven to have started the massive Dixie Fire that had burnt 678,3700 acres across Butte, Plumas and Lassen counties, and destroyed more than 1,180 buildings as of Aug. 19, according to CalFire.
The counties and number of customers most affected by PG&E’s power shutoffs late Aug. 17 were as follows:
- Butte County: 7,221 customers, 1,361 Medical Baseline customers
- Lake County: 4,563 customers, 313 Medical Baseline customers
- Mendocino County: 1,138 customers, 46 Medical Baseline customers
- Napa County: 6,849 customers, 277 Medical Baseline customers
- Shasta County: 15,836 customers, 1,361 Medical Baseline customers
- Sierra County: 1,036 customers, 30 Medical Baseline customers
- Solano County: 1,093 customers, 79 Medical Baseline customers
- Sonoma County: 1,846 customers, 69 baseline
- Tehama County: 9,437 customers, 867 Medical Baseline customers