800,000 customers will lose power in California to reduce wildfire risk


As a precautionary measure to reduce wildfire risk during the forecasted severe wind event, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) confirmed that it will implement a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in portions of 34 northern, central and coastal counties, affecting electric service for almost 800,000 customers.

Also because of shifting forecasts, the utility said it was reducing the third phase of its blackout plan, set to begin Thursday, to only about 4,600 customers in Kern County - one-tenth of the original estimate.

Some of California's most devastating wildfires were sparked in recent years by damage to electrical transmission lines from recurring bouts of high winds that then spread the flames through tinder-dry vegetation into populated areas.

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District tweeted late Thursday morning that the "vast majority of San Ramon" had their power restored.

Before PG&E Corp.'s massive blackout swept across Northern California, Tesla Inc. issued a politely worded but urgent message to its many area customers: charge up your auto, now. The utility company expects to turn off power for about 38,000 customers in the county.

Precautionary blackouts around the state may reach into Kern County in the coming days for the first time since a statewide program was implemented past year to reduce wildfires.

PG&E began cutting electricity as part of an orchestrated shutoff that will eventually plunge nearly 800,000 customers into darkness across Northern California, including parts of Napa Valley and Oakland.

Thousands of California residents are without power this morning after the gas and electric company chose to voluntarily shut off their utilities out of an abundance of caution.

The Caldecott Tunnel would be closed on State Route 24 and the Lantos Tunnel could close along State Route 1 in Pacifica, CNN affiliate KGO reported.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) will still run.

UC Berkeley also canceled classes in response to the power shutoff. The campus is open with limited service, according to a press release.

The utility is opening community resources centers across the state with emergency supplies and electronics charging stations. And major cell phone companies say they're working to ensure the cell service does not go off, too. PG&E said the power will be turned off in stages beginning in the north, depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions.

"A watch means it's basically knocking on your door, " he said.

He said peak winds are to start Wednesday morning and continue until Thursday.

People who rely on medical devices are urged to get them charged at community centers that will remain powered, officials said.

PG&E spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said that because of the way the electric grid is laid out, some customers may be affected by the outage even though they're not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their location.

Officials are concerned that the thick, tangled canopy of trees and power lines around the affected region, combined with narrow roads filled with homes beneath, pose a high risk of fire. A specific power restoration time was not listed by PG&E, but it noted outages could last longer than two days as crews had to inspect and possibly fix equipment first.

"We very much understand the inconvenience and difficulties such a power outage would cause and we do not take or make this decision lightly", he said.

"We faced a choice between hardship or safety, and we chose safety".

In that inferno, 85 people died and a town called Paradise was virtually destroyed.

PG&E later an $11 billion settlement to cover claims for the California wildfires after the utility declared bankruptcy due to the lawsuits. Locals around town are bracing to potentially lose their power.