Blackouts possible again as fire danger looms in California

CALIFORNIA (AP) – Less than two weeks after blacking out much of Northern California, the state’s largest utility is warning that dangerous fire weather could prompt it to shut off power to about a half-million people.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began notifying customers on Monday that it could begin precautionary shutoffs to parts of 16 counties as early as today, mostly in the Sierra foothills and to the north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Any blackouts would last at least 48 hours, the utility said. The utility is concerned that winds forecast to hit 60 mph at times could throw branches and debris into power lines or topple them, sparking wildfires.

PG&E equipment has been blamed for igniting several of California’s deadliest and most destructive fires in recent years and the utility, facing billions in potential claims, was forced into bankruptcy.

However, CEO Bill Johnson said the shutdown was about safety, not money. “The sole intent is to prevent a catastrophic wildfire,” he said.

A huge portion of California is under high fire risk amid unpredictable gusts and soaring temperatures. At least three homes were damaged or destroyed on Monday evening by wind-whipped flames in a mountain community near San Bernardino in inland Southern California. Earlier in the day Los Angeles firefighters beat back a blaze as it raced up canyon walls toward multimillion-dollar ocean-view homes on a coastal ridge.

A helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire threatens homes in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. PHOTO: AP