California's largest power utility was set to begin shutting off power Wednesday to some 375,000 people in 18 northern and central counties in the state as the region faces extreme fire weather that´s lasted since October.
A virtually rain-less fall has left brush bone-dry and forecasts called for low humidity and winds gusting at times to 55 mph which might fling tree branches or other debris into power lines, causing sparks that could set catastrophic fires in the region, PG&E officials said.
One Napa County reporting station hasn´t seen a measurable drop of rain since mid-September - the first time that´s happened since 1905, said Scott Strenfel, PG&E's principal meteorologist.
PG&E is set to begin shutting off power Wednesday to some 375,000 people in 18 northern and central California counties as the region faces extreme fire weather that´s lasted since October. A contractor is pictured on utility poles along Highway 128 near Geyserville
Vines surround a burning building as the Kincade Fire burns through the Jimtown community of unincorporated Sonoma County in October. PG&E continues to take preemptive measures int the hopes of escaping more wildfires this season
The northern Sierra Nevada has seen a fraction of an inch of rain in the past two months instead of the usual 5 inches, he said.
'This lack of rain is keeping the threat of fire very real, this late in the season, in many areas', said Strenfel.
The planned shutoff would be the latest in a series of massive outages by PG&E, including one last month that affected nearly 2.5 million people.
PG&E was bankrupted by the $30 billion legal liability it faced after its equipment was blamed for deadly wildfires over the past two years.
State fire officials blame PG&E's electrical transmission lines for causing the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record, a blaze that killed 85 people in 2018.
Similarly, 44 people died the year in wildfires that burned the state's wine country.
The current fire season has been blamed for five deaths.
PG&E also has been besieged by complaints from inconvenienced residents during previous shutoffs, from drawn out lines at supermarkets and hardware stores to gridlocked cars trying to navigate roadways with disabled traffic lights.
Schools at all levels also had to cancelled classes and business were forced to close their doors in preparation of the big power outage.
Wind gusts that had been expected to reach up to 45 mph across a massive chunk of the state on October 9 turned out to be just gentle breezes, leaving local officials and customers outraged.
A shopper looks at extension cords at B&C Ace hardware store, Tuesday in Grass Valley, California, in preparation of the planned PG&E power shutdown scheduled for Wednesday
The utility has been accused of overkill and using the outages as a crutch because it failed to harden its equipment to withstand fire weather. Critics suggest the utility's preemptive measures are about shielding itself from litigation than safety.
The latest shutoffs are expected to include Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Yolo and Yuba counties, and were expected as early as 6:00 a.m. Wednesday for many PG&E customers.
Some would not be impacted until around 4:00 p.m.
Power should start coming back on by mid-morning Thursday, the utility says.