Large Wednesdays in central and northern California are expected to be without electricity on Wednesday, as the largest state-owned company plans to cut electricity as a precautionary measure. Pacific Gas & Electric said about 800,000 customers would be affected in stages, from the Silicon Valley threshold to the Sierra foothills.
Why is the power reduced?
Extreme winds are expected on Wednesday and Thursday. The peak fires season arrives in California with a combination of high winds and low humidity, creating conditions for potentially catastrophic fires. Pacific Gas & Electric claims that it is actively shutting down power to prevent its equipment from igniting.
In the summer, the utility switched off power to the less populated areas of Northern California, but it was the broadest shutdown of the company that affected large parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.
More than half of all California cities – 34 out of 58 – are expected to be affected by a power outage, according to PG&E, one of the largest utilities in the country.
How long will it last?
PG&E predicts it will start returning power Thursday when winds blow.
But re-energizing power lines is a difficult process, even after the winds blow away. PG&E Vice President Sumeet Singh said in a briefing Tuesday night that technicians would have to check "every inch" of the line before restoring power. It can take five days, he said.
How did the residents react?
On Wednesday, shoppers emptied supermarket shelves for batteries, water and other necessities while energy was still on. The East Bay Municipal Utility District said its pumping capacity would be affected by the closure and called on its customers to minimize water use and shut down their irrigation systems.
Cities have traffic officers near major intersections to direct traffic. In Oakland on Wednesday, all police officers were ordered to report on duty.
Officials said they were concerned about older residents with conditions that required medical equipment.
Stores in Northern California report higher than usual sales of gas generators in the summer. PG&E has created about 30 facilities equipped with bottled water and outlets for charging electronic devices.
What public services will be affected?
Major mass transit systems serving the San Francisco Bay Area – BART and Caltrain – said they would maintain the service,
A number of schools in San Jose and Auckland said they would close until power was out. Berkeley University of California canceled classes on Wednesday.
How Much Electricity Cut Reduces Fire Risk?
PG&E, which went bankrupt in January for tens of billions of dollars in fire liabilities, has been repeatedly castrated and admonished by a judge overseeing efforts to improve the company's safety culture and eliminate vegetation near its power lines.
Deliberate power outages have been described by PG&E as a way to reduce the risk of fire while the company continues its crop pruning program. But in no case does it completely eliminate the risk of fires.
Climate change, drought years and the construction of homes and communities in wilderness areas have contributed to the emergence of violent and deadly fires in California in recent years. In addition to electrical equipment, the direct causes of the fires were mowers, bearings, arson, and in one case a person trying to plug a wasp socket with a metal spike.
Fires that are ignited in extreme wind conditions can be very difficult to control, say firefighters. The deadliest fires of the last two years – the one that destroyed Paradise last year and the country's wine fires in 2017 – both occurred under similar conditions as forecast by meteorologists this week.