PG&E Corp. began deliberate blackouts to about 1,700 customers in parts of Yolo, Solano and Napa counties early Saturday, as high winds created “red flag” wildfire conditions across parts of Northern California.
The utility, driven into bankruptcy by two horrific wildfire seasons, engineered the blackouts at about 6:30 a.m. Most of the affected customers live west of Winters, and in areas around Suisun City, Vacaville and Lake Berryessa. The shutoffs will last “through at least Saturday afternoon,” the company said.
At 3:48 p.m. Saturday, PG&E announced that the shutoff event had concluded, according to the PG&E spokeswoman Karly Hernandez. By 9 p.m., officials said all power was restored in the North Bay, after PG&E crews “completed safety patrols, inspections and repairs of electric infrastructure in the impacted areas.”
Late Saturday, PG&E said that the deliberate shutoffs, the first of the 2019 fire season, would extend to 30,000 more customers around 9 p.m. along the Sierra foothills north and east of Sacramento, including portions of Butte, Yuba, Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties. At the appointed time, officials cut electricity for about 16,000 homes. Among the communities affected by the second round of planned blackouts: fire-ravaged Paradise, where a few thousand people have moved back home in recent months.
By Sunday afternoon, power had been restored to about half of the homes that experienced the planned blackouts in Yuba and Butte counties.
The Saturday shutoffs come a day after PG&E’s board of directors and chief executive officer, Bill Johnson, visited Paradise for a court-ordered, first-hand look at the devastation of last November’s Camp Fire. The fire killed 85 people, the most in California history, and destroyed much of the town, although several thousand people have moved back home in recent months. Cal Fire has concluded that a faulty PG&E transmission tower started the fire.
While the company has said it would use blackouts only as “a last resort,” it’s under enormous pressure to prevent any more wildfires, and the planned blackouts are part of a state-approved “wildfire prevention” program that all major utilities had to prepare this year. PG&E ran a deliberate blackout across parts of Northern California last fall, but its plan for this year is much more aggressive.
“We know how much our customers rely on electric service, and our decision ... to turn off power is to protect our communities experiencing extreme fire danger,” senior vice president Michael Lewis said in a prepared statement late Friday.
The National Weather Service said Red Flag Warnings would continue from Redding to Los Banos until late Sunday.