Tens of thousands of residents across the foothills of nine Northern California counties could suddenly find themselves without electricity over the next 24 hours.
Some 70,000 people may lose power at any time today or tonight as utility Pacific Gas & Electric prepares to pre-emptively de-energize power lines, reducing the risk of a catastrophic wildfire.
The National Weather Service says gusty winds will continue through early Friday, with gusts reaching 40 miles per hour in the valley, 45 in the foothills and 55 along mountain ridges in the Sierra. The high winds, combined with scant precipitation since spring mean extreme fire danger.
“We do recommend keeping some plastic soda bottles, two-litre soda bottles, nine tenths full of water, keep that in the freezer, so you can transfer those blocks of ice to your refrigerator and keep your refrigerator closed as much as possible.” said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.
That should keep groceries from spoiling right away. Flashlights, fully charged cell phones and a battery operated radio are also good to have around.
If the concept seems alien, it’s because preventative outages, officially ‘public safety power shut offs,’ are a fairly new strategy. Several major wildfires last year, including late season blazes that incinerated entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa and devastated the Napa valley were blamed on PG&E equipment including power lines.
“We are only doing this as a last resort and only when the extreme weather conditions do call for it.” Moreno said.
PG&E has fought efforts to make it financially responsible for damage and loss of life.