SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Power will be shut off for 65,000 Northern California electric customers in 16 counties to prevent the spread of wildfires that have engulfed areas of the state, officials said Sunday.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest electric utility, shut off power to 11,000 customers beginning at 4 a.m. Sunday and planned to cut service to another 54,000 customers by 8 p.m.
The company expected to have power restored by Monday evening to all customers.
PG&E Incident Commander Mark Quinlan said the initial plan was to temporarily cut service to 89,000 customers but continuous monitoring enabled the company to reduce the number by 27%.
The initial power outage for 11,000 customers occurred in Butte and Plumas counties.
The second shutdown phase beginning Sunday evening was planned for Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama and Yuba counties. Two customers were also scheduled for shutdowns in Sonoma County.
Shutoffs were also scheduled to begin Monday at 7 a.m. in Kern County for a small number of customers.
The company plans to begin restoring power after receiving confirmation that the weather and wildfire risks enable patrols, inspections and repairs by 50 helicopters and about 1,700 ground personnel in vehicles and on foot.
The shutoff was enacted as result of a red flag warning because of high winds, officials said.
The Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) come as fire-weary California prepared for a new siege of hot, dry weather with potentially strong winds that could cause power lines to arc and spark new blazes in parched vegetation that’s ready to burn.
Red flag warnings for extreme fire weather conditions were issued for the northern and central areas of the state from late Saturday to Monday, the National Weather Service said.
So far this year, more than 8,000 California wildfires have scorched 5,600 square miles, destroying more than 7,000 buildings and killed 26 people.
A new wildfire broke out Sunday in Napa County, prompting the evacuation of residents before dawn and quickly growing to more than 1,200 acres. At the time, there were steady winds of between 15-25 mph in the fire area.
PG&E cut power to about 3,000 customers in Napa County Sunday morning soon after the fire erupted.
In addition, power to 55 customers in Lake County and two customers in Sonoma County would likely be turned off, according to PG&E’s alerts website.
“These are significant fire-weather concerns with all the dry fuels and the winds coming through and lowering relative humidities,” said Brian Garcia, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
Utility officials said they expected to power to restore to a majority of the customers impacted by the PSPS by Monday evening.