Power Outages in California as Winds Boost Fire Danger

October 26, 2020

Large swaths of California had no electricity Monday as utilities tried to prevent the chance of their equipment sparking wildfires while the fire-weary state was buffeted by powerful winds and dangerously dry weather conditions.

About 300,000 power customers, more than 1 million people, were in the dark as officials issued warnings for what could be the strongest winds for California this year.

North of San Francisco, a Mount St. Helena weather station recorded a hurricane-force gust of 89 mph late Sunday and sustained winds of 76 mph.

Winds had calmed slightly by Monday morning but still topped 60 mph, the National Weather Service said.

“While this is less than what we saw earlier, these winds are still strong and dry conditions prevail,” the agency said on Twitter.

Winds reached 50 mph early Monday at lower elevations across the San Francisco Bay Area, where tens of thousands had their electricity turned off. Officials extended a red flag extreme fire danger warning through 5 p.m. Tuesday for the region’s eastern and northern mountainous areas.

A second round of strong gusts is predicted to sweep through the same areas Monday night, forecasters warned.

Scientists have said climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable. October and November are traditionally the worst months for fires, but already this year 8,600 wildfires in the state have scorched a record 6,400 square miles and destroyed about 9,200 homes, businesses and other buildings. There have been 31 deaths.

The electricity shutdowns marked the fifth time this year that Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility, has cut power to customers to reduce the risk of downed or fouled power lines or other equipment could ignite blazes during bone-dry weather conditions and gusty winds.

On Sunday, the utility shut off power to 225,000 customers in Northern California and later did so for

Firefighting crews quickly contained small fires that broke out Sunday in Sonoma and Shasta counties. The causes were under investigation.

The National Weather Service predicted winds in Southern California of up to 35 mph in lower elevations and more than 70 mph in mountainous areas. Officials were worried that any spark could turn into flames sweeping through tinder-dry brush and forestland.

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