SONOMA (CBS SF) — The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for the North Bay hills Tuesday, predicting dangerous fire conditions for the North Bay and East Bay Hills that may trigger another round of preventive power outages.
Pacific Gas and Electric meteorologists were carefully monitoring the deteriorating condition to see if they need to trigger power outages in Napa, Sonoma and San Mateo counties. The utility said Tuesday it will make a decision on Wednesday morning about whether communities will once again be left in the dark.
PG&E said late Tuesday that it has narrowed the scope of the power outages, but if enacted, they could still affect almost 200,000 customers in Northern California. Any potential power outages are expeted to begin at 2 p.m. The utility won’t get the all clear to re-energize until Thursday afternoon at the earliest.
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The weather service predicted north-to-northwestern winds from 15-25 mph with gusts soaring to as high as 40 mph on the higher peaks. Humidity levels were also expected to plunge as low as 15 percent. A perfect combination for a deadly and destructive wildfire.
“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” forecasters warned.
While speaking with reporters in Oakland, Gov. Gavin Newsom was asked if PG&E has fixed the communication issues that plagued them during the first outage earlier this month.
“As you know the last time the state had to come and fix their website,” Newsom said. “But now they seemingly have fixed that and my team assessed that it does look like that website will be appropriate to the needs… The call center, they seemingly have addressed that by repopulating those lines and as it relates to communication they have aggressively tried to address new protocols.”
“Those are four proof points that I do think they are leaning in the right direction. But by no stretch of the imagination do I sit with my eyes closed at night,” he added. “I sleep with one eye open when it comes to PG&E.”
Meanwhile, residents like Santa Rosa’s Lawrence Phillips were learning to adapt to the threat of preventive power outages. PG&E officials have been in the process of informing thousands of North Bay residents through email, texts and phone calls that their power could be shut off starting Wednesday.
Phillips is an instructor at Team LP Fitness in Santa Rosa. He said during the last power outage that ran from Oct. 9-12, his gym merely adapted to the conditions. A plan they will follow again this week if necessary.
“You know we stayed open during the outage,” he told KPIX 5. “Of course at night time I got a little dark inside so we took the classes outside. This time around, it depends, getting a little darker, it’s two weeks later.”
Sonoma County resident Steve Baldaramos, likewise, is adapting. He bought a home generator through Amazon.
“That was my first thought when I heard the weather was going to change, is — ‘We’re going to go through this again,'” he said. “Of course this morning getting emails from next-door — ‘Hey, PG&Es talking about it again.’ Now I’m kind of hoping we have the power outage just now so I can justify my purchase.”
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Adapting to live without a reliable source of electricity was a common theme across the region. And for those who can’t adapt–those relying on life-giving devices to survive–the utility has promised to give extra attention to this time around.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, PG&E said the shutoff will affect 7,488 customers in Napa County, 26,485 customers and 893 baseline customers in Sonoma County and 372 customers and 11 baseline customers in San Mateo County. Other counties likely to see outages are Mendocino, Lake, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, Tehama, Yolo and Yuba.
About 738,000 customers lost power in the preemptive shutoff beginning Oct. 9th across more than 30 counties as part of PG&E’s efforts to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.
On Tuesday, a team of PG&E, state and federal meteorologists will be monitoring the incoming weather system. The utility said it hoped to give final word of the power outages by Wednesday morning.
PG&E’s CEO Bill Johnson told reporters that no decisions on outages has yet been made during a press conference early Monday evening..
“We are hoping that the weather breaks in our favor and we don’t have to do this,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the PG&E service area is about 70,000 square miles and keeping the area free from fire risk while weighing the impact of a power shutoff is an ongoing concern.
“We’re really dealing with a new reality here, and power shutoffs are one tool we have to keep the community safe and combat this risk,” said Johnson. “It’s not a tool that we want to use, it’s certainly not a tool that we like to use. It runs against the grain of why most of us ever got into this business. And we do understand it creates hardship and comes with its own potential safety issue for others.”
Johnson said the company has set up a sister website where customers can determine whether their power will be shut off.