Utilities in Northern and Southern California have cut power from hundreds of thousands of customers as strong winds and parched conditions created a high risk that overhead power lines would spark disastrous wildfires.
The map above shows the fire risk forecast for today and tomorrow from the US Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Assessment System. It will update with each new forecast.
The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which serves Central and Northern California, started pulling the plug on hundreds of thousands of customers on Wednesday, with the weather forecast predicting high winds blowing from inland areas toward the coast.
More than 730,000 customers had their power cut, but PG&E said on Thursday morning that it had restored service to about 127,000. (PG&E estimates that each customer corresponds to about three people, so the number of people still without power could be more than 1.8 million.)
The sudden outages caused concern for people who need power for medical reasons, apparently catching some public officials by surprise.
PG&E has warned that some customers could be without power for up to five days.
“Weather conditions have improved and PG&E crews are now conducting safety patrols and inspections where power had been turned off for safety,” according to a statement posted on PG&E’s website on Thursday morning. “Crews will ensure transmission and distribution lines are free of damage and safe to energize before power can be restored. Inspections will take place during daylight hours.”
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, in the face of legal claims running into billions of dollars after its power lines were found to have triggered the November 2018 Camp fire, which devastated the town of Paradise. That fire killed 85 people and destroyed almost 19,000 buildings. It was the deadliest wildfire in state history.
On Thursday morning, Southern California Edison also began cutting power to parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties.