By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ and JOHN ANTCZAK (Associated Press)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gusty winds and low humidity brought a high risk of wildfires to the interior of Northern California on Wednesday, and a utility proactively shut off power at about 8 a.m. 400 customers to avoid potential fires in windy conditions.
Red flag warnings for critical fire danger were in effect until 8 p.m. for much of the Sacramento Valley and adjacent areas to the west, the National Weather Service said.
Pacific Gas & Electric said shortly before 2 a.m., it began cutting power for public safety reasons in “targeted high fire risk areas” in eight counties. Winds died down throughout the afternoon, and at 5 p.m. the utility issued a “clear” weather advisory, saying it would begin the process of restoring power.
The northerly winds were generated following a pressure trough that moved across northern California on Tuesday, the weather service said.
Public safety power outages are intended to prevent fires from starting when power lines are downed by the wind or hit by falling trees or windblown debris. Such fires have caused significant destruction and death in California.
The issue of power outages surfaced in Hawaii after the deadly fire that destroyed the community of Lahaina on Maui. Maui County says the Hawaiian Electric Company failed to shut off power despite high winds and drought. The utility acknowledges its lines started the blaze, but blames county firefighters for declaring the fire under control and leaving the scene.
Wednesday’s proactive power cuts were PG&E’s first since 2021. PG&E first implemented the cuts in 2019, leaving nearly 2 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere in California du North without electricity and arousing strong criticism.
The utility has since been able to reduce the impact by adding more circuit switches to its network, allowing it to more accurately determine which customers will lose power, said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.
PG&E has also added hundreds of weather stations in wildfire-prone areas, and now has nearly 1,500 units that provide information about when fire conditions are present and when those conditions have passed, a he declared.
California has so far avoided widespread wildfires this year after an extraordinarily wet winter and cool spring that slowly melted the mountains’ snowpack. Downpours from the recent Tropical Storm Hilary further dampened much of the southern half of the state.
Major blazes have been limited to the southeast desert and the sparsely populated far northwest of the state, where lightning sparked numerous blazes this month.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles.