Why your Northern California business be left in the dark when hot, dry winds blow

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Fire season approaches, and with it, a new wrinkle.

As part of its wildfire prevention efforts, the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it may cut power to certain areas to cut the risk its power lines would spark a disaster.

“We start giving the cities and counties notice hopefully 48 hours before we expect the weather event,” said Deanna Contreras, who handles marketing and communications for the North Bay for PG&E. “After we give the cities and counties notice then we start notifying customers hopefully 48 hours in advance,” she added, noting notice is then ideally given 24 hours before lights out and again shortly before the power is cut.

The conditions for a shutdown include a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service, humidity around or below 20%, forecasted winds over 25 mph, and combustible material on the ground along with low moisture in nearby plants.

Contreras said lines running through fire-risk areas could connect to places that are not threatened, causing locations not in danger of fire to lose power. She added once shut off, power lines must be inspected to ensure they can be safely turned back on, contributing to a delay in reenergizing lines.

The utility aims to get the power back on in 24 hours, but customers need to prepare for blackouts lasting more than a day, due to the difficulties in turning power back on and the possibility of multiday weather events, Contreras added.

This year the Public Safety Power Shutoff program could disrupt 31,000 miles of power lines in high fire threat areas, potentially impacting 5.4 million customers. The company faces lawsuits after power lines were identified as causing 17 fires in 2017 and the 2018 Camp Fire that burned much of the city of Paradise.

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