Pacific Gas & Electric has begun to shut off power to almost 800,000 people across northern and central California as it looks to avert the breakout of further wildfires a year after wind damage to its electrical transmission lines caused the state’s most deadly blaze.
With so-called ‘Diablo’ autumn winds set to sweep across much of the state this week, the utility said it is implementing a Public Safety Power Shutoff proactively, “based on forecasts of dry, hot and windy weather including potential fire risk”.
The increased caution comes after wind damage to PG&E electrical transmission lines was found to have been responsible for the Camp Fire, which tore across northern California last November, killing 85 people and ultimately forcing the group into bankruptcy protection in January.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice-president of Electric Operations.
“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire.”
PG&E began the shutoffs at 12:00am local time on Wednesday, cutting off power to 513,000 customers. A second phase will begin at midday affecting a further 243,000, and a potential third phase will hit another 42,000.
The company said the winds were expected to last until midday Thursday, with peak gusts reaching 60 to 70 miles per hour on higher ground.
It reached an $11bn settlement with insurance claimants earlier this month related to the Camp Fire and previous wildfires in 2017. That came after state agency CalFire in May found it had been responsible for the Camp Fire, which started near the community of Pulga in Butte County last November.