Oct. 10 (UPI) — Systemic power outages in California may be expanded to cover more than 1 million homes and businesses, as Pacific Gas & Electric switches off the electricity to avoid starting potential wildland fires.
The utility began systematically cutting power to portions of dozens of counties on Wednesday, anticipating strong winds that can breach power lines and spark fires. Thursday, the blackouts will continue until the wind risk subsides.
PG&E, the state’s largest utility, initially said as many as 900,000 homes and businesses would be impacted by the three-phase plan. Thursday, it said that figure could grow to exceed 1 million, which would include about 3 million residents statewide.
Depending on the weather, the outages could last into this weekend.
PG&E reported several updates late Wednesday, saying it restored power to abut 50,000 customers in the Sierra Foothills and had started phase two of the blackout plan earlier Wednesday afternoon. It also said it soon expected to restore power to another 80,000 homes and businesses.
The threat of wildfire in California is high, and there are already several wildfires burning across the northern part of the state. The largest, the Briceburg Fire, is only 10 percent contained and has burned 4,400 acres and prompted mandatory evacuations in Mariposa County since Sunday.
“We have a lot of unburned fuel on the ground from the rains last winter and spring … and with the high winds, that’s the big problem tonight, we could very easily get into a situation where a wildfire got away from us, that’s the last thing we want to happen,” Con Fire spokesman Steve Hill said.
PG&E agreed last month to pay an $11 billion settlement over its role in contributing to wildland fires in California in 2017 and 2018 — including the Camp Fire in Butte County, the largest in California history, which killed more than 80 people last fall. PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January after learning it could be liable for up to $30 billion in wildfire claims.