PG&E will turn off electricity to 40,000 people in Sonoma County during PSPS power shutoff for dangerous fire weather

With dry, devilish winds bearing down on the North Bay amid a record-breaking heat wave, PG&E will turn off electricity to 40,000 people or more in Sonoma County early Tuesday morning in an attempt to prevent its electrical equipment from sparking another devastating wildfire.

The shut-offs will start around 3 a.m. Tuesday in Sonoma County and power may remain out for more than 24 hours, PG&E announced during a news conference Monday evening. It expects to restore power by 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re doing that because we believe that the unsafe winds will be in place right around day break, at about 6 a.m., so it takes us a little bit of time to make sure we can switch the system off and make sure it is safe before the winds get here,” said Mark Quinlan, PG&E incident commander.

The announcement came as the North Bay baked in triple-digit temperatures for the third straight day, sending thousands to coastal and river beaches in search of relief. But the extreme weather brought danger in tandem with discomfort. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning starting Monday night and continuing through Wednesday morning for the hills in the North Bay, where it forecast hot, dry, windy conditions that allow fires to spread rapidly.

The seriousness of the threat was punctuated to the north in Mendocino County, where the Oak fire exploded Monday afternoon near Willits and ripped through 700 acres in mere hours, forcing evacuations and the closure of Highway 101 in both directions.

After studying weather forecasts for much of the day Monday, PG&E announced that it is implementing proactive power outages for the first time in 2020 to reduce the risk of wildfires in 21 California counties on Tuesday and Wednesday. It conducted seven such outages last year — one in June, one in September, four in October and one in November — six of which affected the North Bay.

In Sonoma County, the power shut-offs will be centered in the Sonoma Valley and the hills north and east of Santa Rosa, PG&E said. The outages could affect 17,686 customers in Sonoma County: 15,052 with Santa Rosa addresses and 2,634 in unincorporated areas of the county.

Approximately 45,000 people in the city of Santa Rosa — or nearly 1 in 10 of the county’s residents — will be subjected to the blackout, the Santa Rosa Fire Department estimated. Chris Godley, the county's director of emergency management, said approximately 40,000 people in the city, other Sonoma County towns and unincorporated areas could be impacted.

In Napa County, shut-offs are planned for 5,028 customers in and around Calistoga, St. Helena and incorporated ares.

PG&E crews scrambled to turn off portions of its electrical grid before the arrival of powerful winds from the north that could blow tree limbs into power lines and cause flames to spread rapidly. It will bring strong winds of 15 to 30 mph — and gusts of 45 to 65 mph in the North Bay mountains, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a wind advisory from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“We understand the impact that turning off the power has on our customers, especially because it's hot,” PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. “We may need to turn off the power during this severe weather for public safety to prevent a wildfire.”

The strategy did not stop the largest wildfire in Sonoma County history: the 2019 Kincade fire, which burned more than 77,000 acres in north Sonoma County last October and forced nearly 190,000 people to evacuate. State investigators determined the fire was sparked by PG&E’s electric transmission lines northeast of Geyserville.

The utility, which exited bankruptcy earlier this year after settling for billions of dollars with victims of a series of wildfires ignited by its equipment, vows the power shutoffs will be different this year than the broad-brush blackouts of 2019. It aims to limit the impact of its shutoffs by having them affect fewer people and by restoring power within 12 daylight hours after the passage of severe weather, Contreras said.

PG&E hopes to restore power in Sonoma County no later than 7 p.m. Wednesday, though it will need assurance from meteorologists that powerful winds no longer pose a danger to the company’s power lines before restoration work can start, Quinlan said.

The key to quicker restoration is faster inspections of lines to check for weather damage to equipment. To this end, PG&E has increased its helicopter fleet from 35 to 65 and will use two airplanes with infrared cameras to allow it to conduct inspections at night, as well as deploying more ground crews, Contreras said.

PG&E is also trying to limit the scope of outages by installing technology on its grid, adding microgrids and using better and new weather forecasting devices to gauge the need for proactive outages, Contreras said.

To look up your address and view a map of the potential outages — PG&E calls them PSPS, for “Public Safety Power Shutoff” — visit

But any loss of power will compound the misery of people already struggling with blistering heat never recorded before in Northern California. Temperatures hit 110 degrees in Santa Rosa on Monday, down 1 degree from Sunday when searing heat shattered all-time records across the region, according to the National Weather Service. Monday’s temperature still broke the daily record of 108 degrees set on Sept. 7, 1904, National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock said.

Temperatures in Cloverdale and Petaluma exceeded triple digits on Monday as well, reaching 111 degrees and 106 degrees, respectively, Murdock said.

Though Monday marked the last day of an excessive heat warning that began Saturday, higher-than-usual temperatures are expected to linger in the region until Wednesday, Murdock said. In Santa Rosa, temperatures are expected to dip to 96 on Tuesday and 89 on Wednesday.

PG&E will open two outdoor customer resource centers Tuesday in Sonoma County in response to the planned outages, one at the Costco in Santa Rosa that opens at 8 a.m. and a second at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts at noon, Contreras said. Charging stations, water and snacks will be among the amenities.

Thousands sought cooler weather on the coast Monday, a holiday for many workers to celebrate Labor Day, though crowds were somewhat thinner than Sunday, said Damien Jones, a California State Parks supervising ranger. Parking lots, pullouts and makeshift parking spaces were completely packed with cars on Sunday and Highway 1 experienced bumper-to-bumper traffic as people entered and left the area, Jones added.

“Yesterday was probably the busiest I’ve ever seen it in my career here, and I’ve been working here for 12 years,” Jones said.

The spread-out nature of the county’s beaches allowed for families to maintain social distance from other visitors on both Sunday and Monday, Jones said.

But a blackout may await them when they return home. Throughout the state, 172,000 customers in 22 counties will be impacted by the planned outages beginning Monday night, PG&E said.

The risk is underscored by the sheer number of wildfires already burning in the state. Cal Fire responded to 49 new wildfires on Sunday alone, said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director. The state fire agency saw the weather forecast several days ago and started making preparations across Northern California — bringing crews into service, expanding available aircraft hours and engaging strike teams from local fire departments due to the potential for heat, gusty winds and low humidity.

“That is the perfect combination for a wildfire, which is why we are staffed up and why we need the public to be extra cautious,” Berlant said.

Unhealthy levels of smoke and air pollution prompted the the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to extend its Spare the Air Alert again for Tuesday and Wednesday, a period spanning a record 24 consecutive days. Much of the local smoke Monday was generated by the Oak fire near Willits, though the incoming winds will likely blow the smoke in the opposite direction come Tuesday, Murdock said.

Meanwhile, California avoided rolling blackouts Monday following a third straight day of pleas by state energy officials to turn off appliances and conserve energy during the heat wave. The statewide Flex Alert called by the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electrical grid, ended Monday night without the need for any power shutoffs.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez On Twitter @nashellytweets. You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @wsreports.

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