BERKELEY (CBS SF) — This is the first time this year PG&E has included Berkeley in a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) warning – an indication of how powerful the dangerous wildfire wind event is expected to be starting Sunday afternoon.
Narrow roads in Berkeley’s Panoramic Hill neighborhood have officials worried residents won’t be able to get out quickly during an emergency. So for the first time, the city is urging people to consider leaving before Sunday afternoon.
“We would love to evacuate, but where do we go and it’s kind of expensive, and the kids have school on Monday,” said Berkeley Hills resident Diana Alberghini. “So it’s not exactly that easy to evacuate, we packed a bag, we packed backpacks.”
Current forecasts project winds in the area to be as strong or stronger than those present during last year’s Kincade Fire and the 2017 Wine Country fires.
“The more that people evacuate, the more easier for people to evacuate and for fire engines and police vehicles to get up those very narrow streets,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
To prevent the chance of sparking wildfires, PG&E could black out customers in much of Northern California and every Bay Area county except San Francisco starting Sunday morning.
“We obviously recognize that power outages present hardships, especially during challenging conditions,” said PG&E Incident Commander Mark Quinlan. “That’s why we try to make these events as small as we can, and when they do happen we try to make them as short as possible.”
After receiving customer feedback, PG&E said this year it’s improved its notification system and is able to provide more detailed information, such as when power is expected to be restored.
“I don’t have a plan to be quite honest, but if it happened, I would certainly try to go to the south of Berkeley,” said North Berkeley resident Elisabetta Baldini.
The city of Berkeley and Cal Fire will be adding firefighters, staff, and equipment to better respond, especially in high-risk areas.
“In some areas, we are going to see winds up to 70 miles an hour and so under these conditions, a fire is going to burn very quickly, and it’s going to burn into areas that maybe are not historically at the highest risk for fires,” said Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant.
Officials are also reminding residents to make sure their cell phones and electric vehicles are charged.
The upcoming PSPS would be the fifth this year. PG&E said it expects to begin restoring power Monday night into Tuesday.