Utility company PG&E warns a blackout could come as soon as Wednesday as the state’s fire risk is heightened by unseasonably warm temperatures and dry weather conditions.
California residents are preparing for power outages once again as the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), announced that it may impose a blackout due to dry weather conditions and high winds. The intentional outage expected on Wednesday could leave 200,000 customers in the dark. The announcement comes less than a month after the company faced scrutiny for poor planning in their initial power shut-off to avert the fire risk.
Firefighters are on edge as extreme fire conditions are expected to last through the end of the week. The National Weather Service (NWS) posted red flag warnings over much of the state through Friday, including a large part of Southern California. Areas stretching from Ventura to San Diego Counties were warned that critical fire weather could threaten life and property.
According to The Weather Channel, Santa Ana winds are expected to ramp up Thursday and persist into Friday with gusts below passes and canyons of 60 mph or higher. Offshore winds that typically begin in the fall are responsible for bringing low relative humidities to the region, which increases the potential for rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior if ignition occurs, the NWS said.
In addition to the winds, Southern California has seen unseasonably warm temperatures already this week, posing more concerns to officials. On Monday, The Weather Channel reported that Anaheim was the nation’s hottest spot reaching 98 degrees, topping out above Death Valley’s 96 degree high.
“The devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfires have made it overwhelmingly clear that more must be done to adapt and address the threat of wildfires and extreme weather with greater urgency,” said Tamar Sarkissian, spokeswoman at PG&E.
The San Francisco-based company is in bankruptcy reorganization as it deals with as much as $30 billion in liabilities related to the fires in 2017 and 2018, according to Scientific American. It has most recently faced near universal scrutiny after shutting off power to customers earlier this month.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported that PG&E shut off power for as long as three days to nearly 800,000 customers in 34 counties. The black-out event was immediately criticized by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, calling for the company to issue rebates of up to $250 for customers and small businesses.
“I am profoundly disappointed in PG&E’s decisions and neglect over the course of many years, which led to this extreme power shut-off event,” Gov. Newsom said in a letter written to PG&E CEO William Johnson on Oct. 14. “PG&E has an obligation to the customers affected by the company’s inadequate preparation and failed execution of this power shutoff event. Lives and commerce were interrupted. Too much hardship was caused.”
As wildfire season is well underway for the golden state, Scientific American reported that state and business leaders are deploying new strategies in a bid to avoid the kind of death and destruction seen in recent years.
Last month, extensive cleanup efforts of dry brush and debris in the San Gabriel Riverbed took place as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and the county Flood Control District imposed a plan to decrease the area’s fire risk.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is working on 35 priority fire prevention projects funded by the state, including clearing brush near highways and removing dead trees near communities in urban areas, according to Scientific American.
Earlier this month, Newsom signed 22 wildfire-related bills, one of his most significant actions since taking office, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Many of the bills measure utility companies and require them to properly maintain their equipment and trim trees around power lines to prevent blazes.
“Given the realities of climate change and extreme weather events, the work is not done, but these bills represent important steps forward on prevention, community resilience and utility oversight,” Newsom said in a statement to the Chronicle.