PG&E Corp. started another of its wildfire safety blackouts early Monday, shutting off power to several thousand customers in scattered parts of Northern California amid gusty winds and a red flag warning.
The public safety power shutoffs hit parts of 10 counties: Yolo, Solano, Napa, Lake, Glenn, Colusa, Shasta, Tehama, Kern and Santa Barbara. The total number of homes and businesses affected was 7,124, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
The blackouts —the third such deliberate cut of the year by PG&E — are expected to last through Tuesday.
The shutoffs came as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through late morning Tuesday, affecting a wide swath of Northern California. Forecasters said winds would hit 35 mph and humidity would remain low, creating dangerous wildfire conditions.
While this power shutoff was one of the smallest since PG&E began imposing blackouts in recent years to avert wildfires, it’s a reminder of California’s continuing struggle to tamp down wildfire risks. Just under 2 million acres have burned in California this year, according to Cal Fire, and what was traditionally considered the start of the wildfire season isn’t for another couple of weeks.
Last year a record 4 million acres burned in California.
PG&E was driven into bankruptcy by the Camp Fire and 2017 wine country fires, which generated billions of dollars in damages. Although it successful emerged from bankruptcy last year, the state’s largest utility continues to be dogged by new wildfire liabilities — an estimated $600 million-plus from the October 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and last year’s Zogg Fire in Shasta County.
This year, the company is being investigated in connection with the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in the state history. Investigators found a tree leaning against PG&E power equipment in the vicinity of where the fire began, near the Cresta Dam in Plumas County. The fire, which started July 13, has burned 963,195 acres and is 90% contained. It destroyed much of the historic downtown of Greenville in Plumas County.
Last week, in a federal court filing, PG&E said it was implementing “additional safety measures for this wildfire season” in the wake of the Dixie Fire. That includes changing the safety settings on its power equipment to cut off power more quickly when problems are detected in its system.