Electricity cut for hundreds of thousands in California to help reduce wildfire risk

As California faces a critical fire danger, utility companies are preemptively shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of customers in the Golden State.

The outages come as a way to reduce the risk of wildfire, as winds — which contribute to blazes — pick up throughout the state.

Last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in California’s history, was sparked by power lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric, according to Cal Fire. The fire, which originated near Pulga in Northern California in Nov. 2018, killed dozens.

A PG&E meteorologist said the weather forecast this week is the strongest wind event since the Oct. 2017 North Bay fires which were caused by “electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles,” reported ABC San Francisco station KGO.

In Northern California, where winds were picking up, 480,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning.

In four Northern California counties — Humboldt, Lake, Placer and Napa — over 75 percent of customers lost power.

Eerie. Sausalito without power. #powershutoff pic.twitter.com/czaKuS6pqC

Public Safety Power Shutoff in Marin is underway. Currently no traffic lights at the intersection of N. Bridge and Bridgway Blvd in Sausalito/Marin City. Please use caution and treat outages at traffic lights as 4-way stops. #MarinPSPS #pgeshutoff pic.twitter.com/ZVxJfyXOnj

In Napa County, police had to step in when a battery backup failed at a busy intersection.

#DEVELOPING When the backup to the backup fails, it’s time for the humans to step in. That’s exactly what #CHP is doing at the busy intersection of Highway 29 an 221 in #Napa Co. The battery backup failed to keep the traffic signals working. pic.twitter.com/Ah4tlFAlxo

No lights working but plenty of action at Farmers Lane and Hwy 12 in Santa Rosa. Power went out this morning. Every driver for his or herself. How are you doing? #abc7now #pgeshutoff pic.twitter.com/cpjAKXY7CH

In Sausalito, just outside San Francisco, two dental hygienists were frustrated to arrive to the office and find no power. They also found it difficult to access the latest PG&E status online.

“We understand that they’re doing what they have to do in a way, but trying to find out information has been the most frustrating, so we really don’t know day to day how to plan,” one employee told ABC News.

PG&E’s PSPS in Santa Rosa is underway. Follow these traffic safety tips for your commute: approach intersections w/caution, treat non-working traffic signals as stop signs, reduce speed & be aware of your surroundings – bicyclists & pedestrians may be hard to see. Drive safely! pic.twitter.com/UOhTQgERAI

It could take several days to fully restore power, PG&E officials said Tuesday night.

More waves of shutoffs are coming, and a total of 800,000 Northern and Central California customers are expected to be impacted, PG&E officials said Tuesday night.

The last minute rush to prepare. Long lines, empty shelves at the Safeway in Orinda ahead of the planned #PGEpowershutdown pic.twitter.com/1aAwpLmaA5

Long lines @ the gas pumps in #Napa. Power outages pushing people to prepare pic.twitter.com/FjnrEVEWaz

Local school districts as well as UC Berkeley have canceled classes due to the outages.

“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire,” Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations, said in a statement.

Storm Prediction Center has portions of the North Bay and Northern California in it’s rare “Extreme” Fire Wx Outlook for later today. #CAwx #OneLessSpark #FireWeather #RedFlagWarning pic.twitter.com/e20yAzGdP3

Another angle of the #BriceburgFire from an alternate PG&E camera. pic.twitter.com/y8uXCbCqHo

Southern California could be impacted, too, as gusty winds move in later in the week.

A preemptive shutdown in Southern California would be historic — Southern California Edison incident commander Terry Ohanian said he’s been with the company for over 35 years and they have never attempted a preemptive shut down like this before.

“We won’t just de-energize for the sake of doing it,” Ohanian told ABC News Wednesday morning. “We know it’s an inconvenience for our customers so we try to be thoughtful about what we do, but the potential is there.”

“And unlike a planned outage where we can schedule it for a certain period of time, this is a function of when the wind blows and when the weather materializes,” he said.

Some helpful tips when preparing for Public Power Safety Shutoffs. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/AVBwiZDytq

Ohanian said 170,000 Southern California Edison customers may be impacted.

The California Highway Patrol is reminding drivers that if a traffic light is flashing, treat it as a stop sign intersection. If the light is out, treat as an all-way stop.

ABC News’ Matt Gutman and Will Carr contributed to this report.

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