PG&E Warns of Power Cuts to 466,000 Customers To Prevent Fires

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California’s largest utility,PG&E Corp., is warning it may cut power to 466,000 homes and businesses to prevent falling wires from igniting dry brush as the most powerful gusts of the 2020 fire season buffet the state.

The outages, which could impact as many as 1.4 million people, would begin Sunday and hit large swaths of Northern California, the company said on itswebsite. Winds are forecast to reach 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour in the northern half of the state, amplifying the threat of blazes in a region left tinder dry by heat and drought.

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    Much of the U.S. West is at risk from wildfires as dry weather and stiff winds turn hillsides, forests and scrub land into tinderboxes. In Colorado,two of the largest fires in state history have forced the closure of Rocky Mountain National Park and triggered the evacuation of nearby towns. And in Utah,Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’sRocky Mountain Power warned earlier this week it may cut power to about 1,800 customers in Sundance and Summit Park due to fire risk.

    The danger will spread into Southern California as well. More than 3.1 million people across California will be in high-risk zones, including the cities of Sacramento, Stockton, and Fairfield, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said in its long-range forecast.

    The looming outages come on the heels of a blistering heat wave that gripped California earlier this month, driving temperatures to record daily highs. In August, a freak lightning storm sparked more than 150 wildfires in 24 hours. Days before that, the state’s grid operator ordered the first rotating outages since the Enron-era energy crisis of 2001 as scorching weather sent electricity demand surging.

    PG&E began resorting to preventative shutoffs after its equipment caused some of California’s worst blazes, forcing the company into bankruptcy last year. PG&E emerged from Chapter 11 in July after having paid $25.5 billion to resolve fire claims.

    “They have a lot of work to do not just to restore their power but to restore the trust that they have failed to earn over the course of decades,” said Governor Gavin Newsom during a briefing Friday. “That is self-evident to anyone living in the Bay Area.”

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