Sonoma, Napa, Marin counties face possible PG&E power shut-off; 6th of 2019
Pacific Gas & Electric announced Monday another round of power shutoffs, one that could include as many as 264,000 customers in 22 counties, including in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin counties.
High fire-risk weather and wind conditions are expected to begin early Wednesday morning and continue throughout Thursday, the utility stated. These preemptive cutoffs of power are intended to lessen the possibility of fires started by live power lines.
PG&E estimates 23,440 customers in Marin County could be impacted by the power cuts. Almost 40,000 Sonoma County customers also face potential outages including in Healdsburg, which was evacuated during the Kincade fire, and Santa Rosa. 11,180 customers in Napa county could also be affected. The company began notifying customers of the power cutoffs this morning.
Approximately 13,370 customers in Lake County along with 3,080 in Mendocino County could also be affected by the power shut offs. The utility stated it hopes to restore power to areas cutoff by Thursday
Customers can use an online address lookup tool to find out if their location is being monitored for the potential safety shutoff at www.pge.com/pspsupdates.
Offshore winds forecast to hit the North Bay, Sierra Foothills and North Valley won’t be as strong as the historic, late-October winds that whipped the Kincade fire into the largest blaze in Sonoma County history, but they may be enough to trigger the sixth PG&E-instituted power shut-off designed to prevent just those types of fires.
The National Weather Service in Monterey has issued a fire weather watch, and meteorologist Steve Anderson said Sunday he expects that to transition into a red flag warning Tuesday night through Thursday morning, meaning high winds and temperatures, low humidity and a subsequent increase in an area’s fire risk.
The midweek weather forecast calls for northeast winds from 20-30 mph, with gusts to 45 mph. Humidity will largely remain below 20%-25%, with some localized areas reaching the single digits, creating high fire danger for the North Bay mountains, East Bay hills and Diablo Range, according to a National Weather Service news release.
Anderson said it’s impossible to compare this week’s forecast to those in October.
“It doesn’t even get close,” he said. “It’s a low-level wind event, but certainly, conditions are still dry out there.”
But it put Pacific Gas & Electric on alert, with the utility giant declaring an “elevated” risk of a power shut-off.
A map and advisory posted on PG&E’s website said that there is “considerable uncertainty regarding the strength, timing and humidity levels” of an incoming weather system expected to land Wednesday. Still, the possibility of dry winds prompted PG&E to upgrade the potential for a precautionary power shut-off for a region including Sonoma, Solano, Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties to the lowest threshold level at which power shut-offs are possible.
PG&E has previously cut power to its customers in an effort to prevent wildfires five times this year, and four of those have come since Sept. 25. That’s up from just one power shut-off in 2018, during which the utility wasn’t yet embroiled in its bruising bankruptcy battle that arose in the wake of the deadly and destructive 2017 North Bay fires. A court battle will still determine whether the company started the Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 4,600 homes in Sonoma County.
The cause of the Kincade fire remains under investigation, but it’s possible PG&E’s equipment is responsible for the blaze. The utility filed a report with regulators that one of its transmission towers may have been responsible for sparking that fire.
This story has been updated.