Watch Live: PG&E officials provide updates on the Public Safety Power Shutoff.
Gusts topping freeway speed raked the San Francisco Bay Area early Thursday after California’s biggest utility shut off electricity to a little more than 738,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers for fear high winds in the forecast could bring down power lines and spark deadly wildfires.
The fire danger that led PG&E to turn out the lights over a large section of Northern and Central California was expected to shift to Southern California as raging winds moved down the state. Major utilities in Los Angeles and San Diego warned they could be forced to cut off power to an estimated half-million people.
Unprecedented in scope, the deliberate outages that started early Wednesday forced schools and businesses to close and otherwise disrupted life for many people, bringing criticism down on PG&E from the governor and ordinary customers alike.
PG&E cast the blackouts as a matter of public safety, aimed at preventing the kind of blazes that have killed scores of people over the past couple of years, destroyed thousands of homes, and run up tens of billions of dollars in claims that drove the utility into bankruptcy.
The shut-offs could be just a glimpse of what lies ahead for California as climate change contributes to more ferocious blazes and longer fire seasons.
In the first phase of the shut-offs, which occurred around midnight Wednesday, portions of the following counties were affected:
Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba counties.
By noon, PG&E had expected to turn off power for its second phase of shut-offs. At a press conference held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the utility said that phase had been pushed back as its meteorologists tracked shifting weather patterns.
Power began to shut off by 3 p.m. Wednesday for customers in Alpine, Calaveras, Mariposa, Mendocino and Tuolumne counties. By 8 p.m., power was shut off to portions of: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus counties. Customers in the East Bay, South Bay and Santa Cruz counties were in the dark just after 10:30 p.m.
A third phase started Thursday morning, when 4,000 Kern County customers had their power shut off. When the third round was announced, PG&E said around 42,000 customers could be affected. At Wednesday night’s press conference, officials said that number had been reduced to between 4,300 and 4,600 Kern County customers.
The following counties and cities have been impacted by the shut-offs:
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To get outage alerts, you can text “enroll” to 97633 or call 866-743-6589. You can also text your zip code to 888777 to receive Nixle alerts. For all PSPS information click here or head to PG&E’s PSPS site for updates and county maps.
According to PG&E, all affected customers have had their power restored.
Chief Customer Officer Laurie Giammona says there will be no more planned outages. If a customer’s power goes out, it is for separate reasons.
Customers will also not be charged for the time they are out of service, says Giammona.
Outages weren’t limited to fire-prone areas because the utilities must turn off entire distribution and transmission lines to much wider areas to minimize the risk of wildfires.
Officials say crews have found 50 instances of damage to the utility’s lines.
It could take as many as five days to restore power after the danger has passed because every inch of power line must be checked by helicopter and ground crews to make sure it isn’t damaged or in danger of sparking a blaze, PG&E said.
PG&E set up about 30 community centers offering air conditioning, restrooms, bottled water and electronic charging stations during daylight hours:
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