Almost two weeks after 2.3 million people in California suffered through forced blackouts, the state’s utilities are warning they may have to cut power again with dry, gusting winds raising the threat of wildfires.
At risk is supply to thousands who live and work in the mountains and valleys north of Los Angeles. A handful have already lost power, and Edison International said on its website that the number could rise to 17,283. PG&E Corp., meanwhile, said in a statement it is monitoring conditions across Northern California that could lead to outages there.
High winds and low humidity have created critical conditions north and east of Los Angeles, and across an area centered on Sacramento, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. A wider area stretching to the border with Mexico faces a less severe elevated risk through Tuesday.
“The general pattern persists for most of the week, so they could be under the gun for potential fire issues going forward,” said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Inside the high-risk area is the ongoing Saddle Ridge Fire, which has been burning for more than a week and has consumed almost 9,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection. It is about 83% contained, Cal Fire reported.
Almost two weeks ago, PG&E which serves northern and central California, blacked out 738,000 homes and businesses in an attempt to cut fire risk, prompting harsh criticism from customers and state politicians. At the time, Edison also cut power to about 24,000 in its operating area.
Two years of wildfire helped push PG&E, the state’s biggest utility owner, into bankruptcy after its equipment was identified as the cause of raging blazes that included the Camp Fire in November 2018 that killed 86 people and destroyed an entire town.
Across California, as well as nationally, the total acres consumed by wildfires has dropped this year, but the threat will remain until winter’s typical steady rain and snow arrives.
Through Oct. 13, California wildfires had consumed 162,693 acres, which lags the fire-year average of 372,066 acres, according to Cal Fire. Nationally, about 4.5 million acres have burned, below the 10-year average of 6.2 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
There is little chance of rain to raise humidity in the air and soak potential fuel, according to Oravec. “It is going to continue to be a dry with a weak Santa Ana through most of the week,” he said.
–With assistance from David R. Baker.
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