California off power to prevent wildfires

LOS ANGELES: Rolling blackouts set to affect millions of Californians began Wednesday as a utility company started switching off power to an unprecedented number of households in the face of hot, windy weather that raises the risk of wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which announced the deliberate outage, is working to prevent a repeat of a catastrophe last November in which faulty power lines it owned were determined to have sparked California’s deadliest wildfire in modern history.

Rick Shaw bartends using light from a lantern at the Town Square Sports Bar in Sonoma, California, on Wednesday, during a planned power outage by the Pacific Gas & Electric utility company. Photo: AFP

California governor Gavin Newsom said the “frustration that Californians feel as they deal with the impacts of these power outages is warranted,” but that safety was the main concern.

“Our first priority is to protect people and to ensure that communities are safe,” he added in a statement.

In last year’s inferno, 86 people died and a town called Paradise was virtually destroyed. PG&E has been found responsible for dozens of other wildfires in recent years, too.

This is peak wildfire season in California.

“Extremely critical” fire conditions were expected in parts of northern California Wednesday, and in southern California around Los Angeles county Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

PG&E said the severe weather incident prompting its precautionary shut-off — hot, dry conditions and winds gusting at up to 110km per hour — was expected to last through mid-day Thursday in northern and central California.

The outages already affecting regions such as the Napa Valley wine country could last up to a week in some places. Some 800,000 customers will lose power, meaning around two million people will be affected in the planned PG&E outages.

The city of San Francisco is not affected by the intentional shut-off but much of the surrounding Bay Area could go dark including parts of Silicon Valley. – AFP