PG&E Aims To Prevent Sparking Wildfires With Planned Blackouts

19 hours ago
Originally published on October 9, 2019 9:59 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

About 800,000 people are without electricity in northern and central California today. That's because the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, began to intentionally cut off power overnight. This is all part of an effort to prevent wildfires. And the outage could last for several days. Jeremy Siegel of member station KQED reports.

JEREMY SIEGEL, BYLINE: The affected areas stretch from the San Francisco Bay area hundreds of miles northeast into the Sierra Nevada foothills and over into California's Central Valley.

MAYRA TOSTADO: This isn't a decision that we take lightly.

SIEGEL: PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado says the investor-owned utility understands that people might be frustrated, especially people with certain medical needs. And in the afternoon leading up to the shutoffs, PG&E workers went door to door to let those people know their electricity's being cut.

TOSTADO: Our most important responsibility is keeping our customers and the communities we serve safe. And if we're able to keep them safe, that's all we care about.

SIEGEL: The preemptive shutoffs come amid some of the most dangerous fire weather of the year. National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Garcia says gusty winds and low humidity are making conditions ripe for wildfire.

BRIAN GARCIA: This event does have the potential to be the strongest offshore wind event in the area since the October 2017 North Bay fires.

SIEGEL: Garcia's referring to one of many destructive fires to hit California in recent years. Last November, the deadliest and most destructive blaze in state history killed more than 80 people and nearly destroyed the entire town of Paradise. An investigation found that that fire was sparked by PG&E's equipment. These blackouts are part of an effort to prevent a similar disaster. For NPR News, I'm Jeremy Siegel in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.