SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Utility crew inspections in the wake of a massive Pacific Gas & Electric preventive power outage that left millions of Northern Californians in the dark have discovered more than 100 incidents of wind damage to transmission lines that may have triggered a wildfire, company officials announced Wednesday.
Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations, said the company acknowledged the hardships residents in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties endured during the outage last week.
“While we understand and recognize the major disruption this PSPS event imposed on our customers and the general public,” Lewis said. “These findings suggest that we made the right call, and importantly no catastrophic wildfires were started.”
PG&E has come under fire from irate customers, regulators and state officials in the wake of the forced power outage. But in defending their action, utility officials said, the incidents of damage or hazards were spread widely across the region where the power was shut off. Wind gusts exceeded 50 mph in 16 of the 35 counties where the power was turned off and were under Red Flag Warning fire conditions.
PG&E’s meteorologists measured a 77 mph wind gust in Sonoma County, 75 mph in Contra Costa County, 54 in Napa County and 52 mph on Alameda.
Company officials gave several examples of the kinds of wind damage that was uncovered during the post-outage inspection of nearly 25,000 miles of distribution lines and 2,500 miles of transmission lines.
- In Napa County, a large tree limb was found tangled with a span of wires.
- In Santa Clara County, a very large tree branch fell through lines connected to a house.
- In Santa Cruz County, a tree fell across the lines.
- In Shasta County, a large tree fell into the lines pulling a utility pole from its foundation.
PG&E said the vast majority of the 738,000 meters that were turned off in 35 counties impacted by the the outage were restored within 48 hours.
The utility is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of millions of dollars in damage lawsuits from a series of wildfires it’s transmission lines triggered since 2017 including last year’s deadly and destructive Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise last year.