‘Extreme’ fire threat in California forces power cut for over 2 million people

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With red-flag warnings in place and an “extreme” fire risk for parts of Northern California on Wednesday that is expected to shift south Thursday, a bout of strong and prolonged winds is prompting Pacific Gas & Electric not to take chances.

Because the utility giant does not want to risk its grid infrastructure sparking yet another killer wildfire, 800,000 PG&E customers in 34 northern, central and coastal counties (2-plus million people) are having their power cut Wednesday — perhaps for days.

As the wind threat spreads to the south, shutdowns also will affect those in the Southland.

Forecasts call for offshore gusts of warm, bone-dry air up to 70 mph (112 km/h) in the mountains and foothills through Friday, leading the company to concede it is better for people to lose lights, the Internet and other trappings of civilization in a “public safety power shut-off” rather than their lives.

To sound the alarm for strong winds in warm, low-humidity conditions with dry vegetation, National Weather Service offices across the state issued red-flag warnings.

So where are the #SantaAnaWinds expected later this week? Here is a snapshot of high-res model output of gusts (kt) valid at 10am Thu. The strongest winds are expected over LA and VTA counties. Expect gusts up to 55mph for coast/valleys and 70mph for mtns on Thu. #SoCal #CAwx pic.twitter.com/EfLMxlFJ1f

— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) October 9, 2019

Such warnings are typically issued when gusty winds, low relative humidity and high temperatures mingle to create fire and fire growth potential.

Additionally, the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center’s fire weather outlook through Thursday painted “critical” fire danger across much of California, including two pockets of “extreme” conditions, one in the north Wednesday and the other in the south Thursday.

The winds that will be spreading any potential conflagration stem from a powerful storm system expected to wreak havoc across much of the West.

The Weather Prediction Center is forecasting heavy snow and strong winds across parts of the northern Rockies and northern Plains, along with record low temperatures possible across the Northwest on Thursday.

It was less than a year ago when power lines and windy, dry conditions in remote Butte County brewed into the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

The Camp Fire killed 85, incinerating the bucolic Sierra Nevada foothills town of Paradise. Since then, PG&E has declared bankruptcy.

Other power companies across the state announced they were taking the same precautionary measures as PG&E, or at least considering the same.

Southern California Edison said shut-offs could hit nearly 174,000 customers; for San Diego Gas and Electric, the tally approaches 29,000.

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