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California Utility Cuts Power to Nearly 800,000 for Fire Safety

FILE - A view of the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Wildfire Safety Operations Center is seen in San Francisco, California, August 5, 2019.

California power company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will shut off power to nearly 800,000 customers to prevent possible forest fires in parts of northern, central and coastal California.

PG&E confirmed it will proactively shut down power in those areas for up to five days for customers in 34 counties in California. The company is calling the intentional power cuts Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). The PSPS will affect people’s homes, as well as public services like traffic lights.

Hospitals are using backup generators and likely will remain open, along with emergency services. Cellphone companies have said most cellphones should work as long as they're charged.

FILE - A Pacific Gas & Electric worker walks in front of a truck in San Francisco, California, Aug. 15, 2019.
FILE - A Pacific Gas & Electric worker walks in front of a truck in San Francisco, California, Aug. 15, 2019.

The utility company is citing a forecast of dry, hot and windy weather with high potential for fire risk. The projections showed peak winds forecast for at least the next couple of days, and they could reach 96 to 112 kilometers per hour in higher elevations.

A fallen power line could spark a forest fire which could then quickly spread on a massive scale by the dry and windy climate.

California has had a history of wildfires that have cost billions of dollars in damages, rebuilding, and insurance claims. Last year’s 'Camp Fire' was the biggest and deadliest in California’s history, destroying 18,804 structures and killing 86 people.

On the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection list of California’s most destructive wildfires, eight of the 20 infernos are from the past two years.

PG&E has been found to have been connected to many wildfires over the past few years. An investigative report by The New York Times found the company had a history of violating state law and cutting corners on safety. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and discussions are ongoing. The company said earlier this year it might face more than $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.

“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations.

PG&E has opened Community Resource Centers in areas subject to the PSPS to support affected customers.