Hundreds of thousands of people in Northern and Central California are without power on Wednesday after PG&E cut power to around 500,000 homes to protect against wildfires.
According to The New York Times, the electricity giant is taking precautions as high winds hit the area during the peak of wildfire season after an extraordinarily hot summer. The utility plans to cut power for up to 800,000 people living from the edges of San Francisco all the way to the foothills of the Sierra mountains. In all, 34 out of 58 counties in California will be impacted.
The move is wreaking havoc on people living in the area. In San Jose alone, up to 200,000 people could be without power, though PG&E says it is cutting power to 38,000 customers. However, a customer can include an entire apartment building, which means far more people will be without power than the numbers indicate.
As power is cut, motorists will be forced to drive without the benefit of traffic signals, people are stocking up on food, water, and batteries, and some may be without their usual amount of water as pumping capacity is impacted.
Once the winds calm down, PG&E will begin turning the power back on, but it could take up to five days to get everyone back up and running, since technicians will have to inspect all of the lines before they can restore power.
Kp Karness, San Jose’s deputy city manager, said that the event could be difficult for many, especially the elderly and those who rely on medical equipment.
“This event can be very scary and it can affect a lot of people,” he said.
Many schools have canceled for the day, though mass transit in San Jose and San Francisco are scheduled to keep running.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some customers in the area are frustrated with the move, which some consider to be extreme given the actual risk. State Senator Jerry Hill said that while the fire danger is real, the outage is too extreme.
PG&E cut power to ~800K homes in northern California because of strong winds it says could spark wildfires.— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 9, 2019
Its power lines caused the Camp Fire that killed 85 people there last year. The outages could last "several days." pic.twitter.com/2rrB9nvL7z
“I think it is excessive,” said Hill. “PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe. These shutdowns are supposed to be surgical. But shutting down power to 800,000 people in 31 counties is by no means surgical.”
A Ukiah resident also expressed concern.
“PG&E should have been doing the proper maintenance for the last decade,” Clarke said. “This wouldn’t have been necessary [if they had], and I think that’s what has got everyone so angry and frustrated with PG&E right now. This is a crisis of PG&E’s making.”
The utility took the extreme step after being forced to file for bankruptcy for tens of billions of dollars in wildfire liabilities.