Power shut off to 21,000 customers as wildfires erupt in Southern California

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Some of California's most devastating wildfires were sparked in recent years by damage to electrical transmission lines from recurring bouts of high winds that then spread the flames through tinder-dry vegetation into populated areas. "What's happened is unacceptable and it's happened because of neglect".

That figure was slightly below the 800,000 feared, which would have left 2 million people unplugged.

Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized PG&E and ordinary customers complained about the inconveniences caused by the unprecedented blackouts that began midweek, with many wondering: Did the utility go too far in its attempt to ward off more deadly fires?

"Northern California is not a Third World country", the San Jose Mercury Statesman said in an editorial. Some 126,000 customers had its power supply restored as of Thursday 9 a.m.

"We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public's patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire", said Michael Lewis, PG&E's senior vice president of Electric Operations.

Southern California started to see preemptive power shutdowns Thursday as the worst of the gusty, dry winds moved into the region.

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Pacific Gas & Electric is unable to say at this point how long the outages will last, but the company is telling people to make plans for living without electricity for up to five days.

The fire danger in Northern California is expected to decrease on Friday but remain elevated in the south part of the state.

Oakland supermarkets brought in refrigeration trucks to save food and Montclair businesses like Laurie Shepherd's dental clinic were unable to tell patients when they would reopen.

"Those were decisions that were made by Pacific Gas and Electric - they chose not to modernise their grid", said Newsom.

It is estimated the power shutdown is costing California $2.5 billion, and leaving most of the 2.7 million affected people fuming. "Whether it's a grid-caused fire, or an ignition from a auto engine, or your lawnmower or something else, those are not places where people should be living and expect all the tax payers of the state to bail them out".

Since PG&E was determined to be the root cause, "the burden of those liability claims, coupled with the state legislature [which] determined [PG&E] could not raise rates to pay for those, they couldn't use rate payer money to pay for those fire-related claims, they would have to use shareholder money", said Catherine Wolfram, who is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on energy policy with the campus' Energy Institute.

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