Pacific Gas & Electric cuts service to 24,000 customers as windy, dry and hot conditions endanger northern California

Thousands of people in northern California woke up on Tuesday without electricity after the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to try to prevent wildfires amid windy, dry and hot conditions.

PG&E cut electrical service to 24,000 customers in three counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Monday evening, saying power would remain off until weather conditions improve.

The utility said it might restore service briefly on Tuesday before it cuts it on Tuesday night.

Butte county is where a wildfire blamed on PG&E transmission lines killed 86 people last year and virtually leveled the town of Paradise.

PG&E warned it might expand the precautionary outages on Tuesday to six additional counties if gusty winds and hot, dry weather continue.

Strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures were forecast in the state through Wednesday, and authorities issued an extreme fire danger warning for some areas.

Red Flag warnings of fire danger were in effect on Tuesday north and east of San Francisco, and forecasters predict a brief burst of Santa Ana winds in southern California.

East and west of Los Angeles, nearly 90,000 Southern California Edison customers were advised they could be blacked out, but no Red Flag warnings were issued.

Humidity levels are dropping, and winds are picking up, said Eric Kurth, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. The main threat is overnight when the winds pick up in the mountains and foothills.

Some of the most destructive blazes in the state in the past two years were started by PG&E power lines. Winds can knock down live wires and power poles or drive trees and other vegetation into contact with them.

PG&E first cut off power pre-emptively last October, affecting some 87,000 customers. The move prompted complaints and demands for reimbursement.

But the utility canceled plans to shut off power ahead of the deadly 8 November blaze that started near Paradise.

An investigation by Cal Fire said transmission lines owned and operated by the utility started the fire that wiped out nearly 15,000 homes.

California regulators in May approved allowing utilities to cut off electricity to avoid catastrophic wildfires. But they said utilities must do a better job ramping up preventive efforts and educating and notifying the public, particularly people with disabilities and others who are vulnerable.

In January, PG&E sought bankruptcy protection, saying it could not afford an estimated $30bn in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from catastrophic wildfires.

Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11bn to insurance companies holding 85% of the claims from fires that include the Paradise blaze.

The settlement, confirmed on Monday, is subject to bankruptcy court approval.

It is important for PG&E to pull itself from bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a wildfire fund to help Californias major utilities pay future claims, as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and severe.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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