Blackouts continue as state burns

David Mamaril Horowitz

PG&E briefs and updates

Expect Bay Area power outages for the next decade, according to Utility PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson during a California Public Utilities Commission meeting earlier this month.

According to the 2019 Wildfire Safety Plan, power outages will be often and necessary as long as extreme and dry weather conditions persist. 

The SF Chronicle reported that the utility company is working on updating its electrical systems to prevent future blackouts. Important upgrades include covering bare wires and strengthening  poles in areas that are most susceptible to fires. 

“I didn’t mean to say we’d be doing it on this scale for 10 years. I think they’ll decrease in size and scope every year,” Johnson said in a later statement. 

In the short term, PG&E crews are still working to restore areas that were affected by the Oct. 26 outages, but for now customers can prepare for another on Tuesday and Wednesday.  


CA counties continue to go dark 

In light of widespread dry wind events in California, utility Pacific Gas and Electric will once again initiate power shutdowns in 32 counties today through midday Wednesday. 

Notifications have been sent to PG&E customers in Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties, the utility stated.

The shutdowns are part of a continued public safety effort, according to an Oct. 27 press release. In Northern and Central California, PG&E serves a 70,000-mile area, half of which is currently at high risk for fire outbreaks. 

Wind gusts in many of these counties may exceed 45 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Strong offshore winds combined with dry environments promote dangerous fire conditions, and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said effects of such conditions will continue to threaten the state this week.  Numerous fires blazed across California the past several days, with the largest fire affecting Kincade.  

PG&E said the extreme weather conditions like high winds can also damage electrical infrastructure and spark power lines, facilitating the spread of fires.


Newsom and Breed declare emergencies 

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency in light of the Kincade fire, which has evacuated almost 200,000 people. 

This week Newsom traveled to Geyserville, Los Angeles and Napa to meet with residents, emergency crews and health officials, according to a press release. He also held public forums to discuss future fire threats and encouraged cities to hold utilities responsible for the fires that follow a power outage. 

The governor also announced an allocation of $75 million from state and local governments to alleviate some of the burden from those experiencing power outages. Last week he also obtained grants to supply local and state agencies with the tools necessary to fight both the Kincade and Tick fires. 

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed declared a local emergency following the Kincade fire. In an Oct. 27 tweet, she announced that St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco will open 200 beds to evacuees from Sonoma county. The city is currently exploring other future shelter locations.