California Utilities Shut Off Power to (Hopefully) Prevent Wildfires

October 15, 2018, 3:50 PM UTC

Parts of Napa and Sonoma counties are without power as utility providers in California enact planned power outages in hopes of preventing catastrophic wildfires this fall.

The state is under a major red flag warning, with wind gusts expected to exceed 70 mph in some areas Sunday night. This comes after the state has seen record heat and very little rainfall.

Many of last year’s wildfires have been tied to sparks thrown from downed power lines knocked over by the Santa Ana winds.

As of late Sunday, Pacific Gas & Electric had shut off power to more than 17,000 customers in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties and 42,000 customers in the Sierra foothills. The red flag warning ends Monday night and power will hopefully be restored by Tuesday.

PSE&G is hardly the only power company employing this strategy. Other utilities in California, including Southern California Edison (which serves Los Angeles County) and San Diego Gas & Electric, are as well. All totaled, as many as 217,000 customers in a dozen counties could be affected by this round of outages.

“We understand the impact [that] turning off power could have on customers,” Paul Grigaux, Southern California Edison’s incident commander, said in a statement. “We will only shut off the power as a last resort when weather conditions are so dangerous that flying branches, palm fronds and other vegetation pose a threat to power lines and the safety of the community.”

The red flag warning comes just over a year after the Tubbs Fire swept through Napa and Sonoma counties, proving to be the most destructive in the state’s history. Businesses in those areas, such as Paradise Ridge Winery, are still working to recover.