California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has begun sending portions of the San Francisco Bay area into darkness again with the threat of breezy conditions. Since earlier this fall, the utility has been shutting down portions of the electrical grid ahead of warm and windy weather that can help fan wildfires.
The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag Warnings for an increased fire weather threat across the North Bay Mountains, the East Bay Hills, and the Diablo Range from 4am this morning through 7am tomorrow. During this period, gusty north to northeast winds sustained 20-30mph with gusts to 35-45mph are possible. Localized gusts at/above 60mph are also possible on isolated peaks and ridges. With low relative humidity, any new fire starts have the potential to rapidly spread in such conditions.
Hundreds of thousands of people around San Francisco find themselves without power now and hundreds of thousands more may lose their power in the coming hours.
Just weeks ago, on October 9-10, more than 2 million people were plunged into darkness when utilities cut power preventatively in high wind risk areas to reduce the threat of wildfires.
Last spring, fire officials concluded that equipment operated by PG&E caused the most destructive wildfire in California’s history last November: the Camp Fire of 2018. That fire killed 85 people, left several firefighters injured, and destroyed more than 150,000 acres across portions of northern California. Investigators determined that PG&E-controlled electrical transmission lines near the community of Pulga, located nearly 100 miles north of Sacramento, sparked the fire. Dry vegetation, strong winds and low humidity created a perfect fire weather scenario, creating a fast-moving conflagration that burned through the communities of Concow, Paradise and Magalia. Due to that fire, utilities have adopted a controversial policy of killing portions of the grid to prevent future tragedies from occurring.
The area of low pressure responsible for the dry, windy conditions in northern California is also bringing soaking rains to southern California. More than a quarter inch of rain is expected in the Los Angeles basin today.