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PG&E Warns of 'Extreme Measure' Amid High Winds

Utility may be shutting off power to 2 million people in Northern California on Saturday night
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2019 7:30 AM CDT
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Flames from the Kincade Fire consume a car in the Jimtown community in Sonoma County, Calif., on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(Newser) – More than 2 million people in Northern California may be without power Saturday night in a planned blackout meant to fend off wildfires. The Los Angeles Times reports that this anticipated move by Pacific Gas and Electric, which would affect 36 counties, is due to high winds forecast for the weekend. By Monday, the utility, which serves 16 million Californians, expects the wind may force it to shut off the juice for almost all of its territory in Northern California. Firefighters are already battling the 22,000-acre Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which was only 5% contained by Friday afternoon. Adding to the danger was the fact that many residents in the town of Geyserville had to evacuate in the dark after power had already been turned off to prevent fires from starting, a fact that PG&E spokesman Jason King notes was "a very impactful and ... major inconvenience."

It also underscores that shutting off electricity to prevent fires may not even always work. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, King says PG&E took the "extreme measure" of cutting off power to lower-voltage distribution lines (which brings power to homes and businesses) in the area, but not to more powerful transmission lines, which carry electricity from power plants to substations. The utility acknowledges that a transmission line near where the Kincade Fire started Wednesday was energized at the time. Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted PG&E at a Friday presser, noting "they simply did not do their jobs" and promising a complete overhaul of the utility. "Mark my words. It is a new day of accountability," the governor said, per the Times. Meanwhile, PG&E says it can't give an estimate on when Geyserville residents will get their power back. (Read more PG&E stories.)

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