PG&E may shut off power to nearly 1 million customers in California to prevent ‘catastrophic wildfire’

The Nevada Seismology Lab's ALERTWildfire camera shows the Kincade Fire starting, and spreading through the area.

Thousands of customers of California’s largest utility company will find out Saturday morning if they will have to spenddays without power as fires continue to rage in the state.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) officials are expected to decide by 8 a.m. (local time), if the company will cut power to about 850,000 customers, a utility spokesman said.

The planned power outage could last for several days, the utility said, to prevent a “catastrophic wildfire” during what is expected to be particularly dry and windy weather.

More than seven million people will be under red flag warnings Saturday across the Sacramento Valley, with critical to extreme fire dangers over the coming days.

High wind warnings and advisories remain in place across much of northern California as winds increase throughout the day and peak Saturday evening and overnight, according to CNN meteorologists.

PG&E has been under scrutiny in recent years for the role its equipment played in several devastating fires across the state, including last year’s deadly Camp Fire. Over the last weeks, the utility has been enacting preventative shut-offs all over northern and central California, but this weekend’s could be the largest this year.

Estimates indicate the potential outage could affect more than 2 million people, a spokesperson with the company said.

Customers in 36 counties are at risk of losing power, the utility said Friday. Some of the areas that may be impacted are Humboldt, the Sierra foothills, Western Sacramento Valley and the greater Bay Area. Paradise, which was devastated by last year’s deadly Camp Fire, could also be impacted by the blackout.

While the shut-off is not confirmed yet, the utility said it could begin Saturday and last until midday Monday.

If the blackout is needed, PG&E Vice President Sumeet Singh said, the utility will start by shutting off power in 13 counties in the Northern Sierra foothills at 3 p.m. (local time).

Eight more counties in the North Bay and Mendoncino area would lose power at 5 p.m. The Bay Area, coast and southern portion of the Sierra Foothills would be impacted at 7 p.m.

The news of the potential outage comes as the utility is in the process of restoring power to about 179,000 customers in Northern California. Power was restored to 99% of its customers on Friday, with the exception of Sonoma County where the Kincade Fire continues burning, the utility said.

Winds fanning the flames

Strong winds have been fueling the Kincade fire in Sonoma County for several days but forecasters say stronger wind gusts are expected to begin Saturday.

“The upcoming wind event has the potential to be one of the strongest in the last several years. It’s also likely to be longer than recent wind events, which have lasted about 12 hours or less,” said Scott Strenfel, a PG&E meteorologist.

Forecasters are expecting winds of 30-55 mph with gusts of 60-80 mph beginning Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. The winds can blow down trees, power lines and made it difficult for most vehicles to travel, including those pulling trailers.

“This will be a long duration and potentially extreme/historic even across the North Bay,” the weather service in San Francisco said in an advisory.

The weekend winds could be strongest recorded in the area since several fires devastated California’s wine country in 2017. High winds, dry conditions fanned the flames in Sonoma and Napa counties, forcing thousands to evacuate and killing dozens.

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