California’s largest utility provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has initiated intentional blackouts to parts of 34 different California counties, from parts of the San Francisco Bay area to throughout the state starting on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The power shutoff was to avoid the sparking of wildfires throughout the state as California is at the peak of its wildfire season.
A number of small fires have already sparked, including one in the Bay Area town of Moraga that burned about 50 acres. The shutoff was described by PG&E as a precautionary measure “based on forecasts of dry, windy weather including potential fire risk.”
The power shut-off affected at least 800,000 different California residents in counties all across central and parts of Northern California. As a result of the extreme weather and the issue of Red Flag warnings, many schools and colleges have shut down because of unsafe weather and air quality to ensure the safety of their students, faculty, and staff.
The Vice President of PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program issued a statement saying that “we took this step to ensure safety as a last resort, and we are committed to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire event.”
The strong winds that have been sweeping through California, coupled with the hotter temperatures, were concerning to the company amidst the state’s most vulnerable season for wildfires. Since the equipment was shut off, the company has reported multiple cases of damage that could have potentially started dangerous fires, including fallen branches on power lines.”
The blackouts initiated by PG&E ensured that the sparking of fires was kept at a minimum, but many customers were outraged at the sudden loss of power due to poor communication by the utility provider. The CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric admitted that the company did not communicate well with their customers and “was not adequately prepared” for handling a power outage on such a large scale.
This isn’t the first time, however, that PG&E has come under fire. The company was put under intense scrutiny for mismanaging sections of its power grid in the past. It also filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in January as it faced billions of dollars worth of possible liabilities stemming from years of devastating fires in Northern California.
Regardless, PG&E promised that once weather eases and it becomes safer for residents to venture out, “crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment, and restoring customers.”
The power outages that began on Wednesday, Oct. 9, continued on as the weather persisted in some areas and PG&E issued a statement telling people to expect to be without power for up to five days. As of Thursday morning, the company had restored power to 137,000 customers, but for other customers it was foreseen that it may be a while until their power returned.