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A California power utility is preparing to cut electricity to residents across 38 counties, a move that will affect roughly 1 million people, in response to extreme fire weather threatening the region.
The decision by Pacific Gas & Electric is an attempt to avoid repeating what happened in 2018 when a massive fire was triggered by a spark from damaged power equipment. In that blaze, 85 people were killed and the town of Paradise was almost completely destroyed.
Lynsey Paulo, a spokeswoman for the power company, said its meteorologists were already tracking “the strongest offshore wind event of the season.”
“We’re seeing a dangerous combination of factors, with high winds, extreme low humidity, record dry fuels on the ground, and extreme to severe drought in many areas,” Paulo said, Fox Business Network reported.
Power cuts are expected to begin by early Sunday and could last into Tuesday, which would coincide with a Red Flag Warning from the National Weather Service, which reported conditions that impose an “increased risk of damage” to electrical systems.
The region can expect gusts of wind up to 35 miles per hour, which is enough to push a potential spark from power equipment miles through dry forestland and brush.
That said, even a few days’ worth of power loss can dramatically impact small businesses that are already suffering economically thanks to enduring COVID-19 restrictions imposed by state and local officials.
Regional hardware stores saw a spike in the sales of generators, batteries, and flashlights last year after PG&E shut off power to businesses and homes, according to ABC 10. While big chain stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s were open to customers, smaller businesses struggled to get by during the power cuts.
In addition, grocery stores and saw dramatic increases in purchases of necessities including some food items, water, and toilet paper.
But because of the lingering pandemic restrictions, suppliers have been under strain for months, due in part from the closures of stores but also because residents in other states have been stockpiling due to shopping limits and other mandates in many parts of the country, reports noted.
Power officials said that the outages will include parts of northern and central Sierra Nevada, the Sacramento Valley, the Santa Cruz mountains, and most of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Also, the National Weather Service has indicated conditions could match those that contributed to massive fires in the state’s wine country in 2017 and the Kincade Fire last year.
Steve Strenfel, the chief meteorologist for PG&E, said that current conditions are very dangerous.
“We’re seeing … extremely high winds, extremely low humidity, extreme dry fuels due to the hottest average temperatures over the last six months, according to records that go back 126 years, and extreme drought across the territory given lack of rainfall,” he said in a statement.
At present, California firefighters are battling 19 blazes across the state during what officials have said is a record-breaking wildfire season.
Critics, including actor James Woods, blasted Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration over what he and others characterize as “mismanagement” of the state’s forest lands.
“California is so utterly mismanaged by this fool in the governor’s mansion, we have to have our electricity turned off, so the state doesn’t burn down,” he wrote on Twitter Saturday night.
In 2018, as wildfires ravaged parts of the Golden State, President Donald Trump also weighed, blaming “bad environmental laws” that prohibited better forest management techniques like clearing brush and other debris near power lines.
“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
Later, the president threatened to cut off federal funding to California if Newsom’s administration didn’t adopt better forest management practices.
In August, Trump also criticized the richest state in the country for being unable to provide its residents with reliable power as rolling brownouts due to a dearth of power production.
“Overall demand in the Golden State hasn’t been especially high, but clouds and low winds have reduced the output of the solar and wind plants that it’s decided to rely on for as much electricity as possible,” the New York Post Editorial Board noted. “The carbon-based plants it’s been closing down aren’t so weather-dependent.”