With the strongest Diablo winds and fire weather of the season predicted for Sunday, Pacific Gas & Electric says it will shut off power for roughly 361,000 customers in Northern California.
“We are seeing a dangerous combination of factors with this forecast. High winds, extremely low humidity, record dry fuels on the ground and severe drought,” said PG&E’s Lynsey Paulo.
The 2020 fire season has already proven devastating for the region, and meteorologists fear the windy, dry conditions will stoke the blazes already underway.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Red Flag warning for much of Northern California starting Sunday and into Tuesday for what the agency calls the “strongest event of the year so far.” More than 30 million people are under the warning through the start of next week, according to CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin.
A Red Flag warning means damaging winds and extremely low humidity pose a severe risk for wildfires that can spread very quickly.
Earlier this month, PG&E shut off service to some customers to prevent equipment from igniting fires in harsh conditions.
This outage is in anticipation of strong Diablo winds Sunday, forecast to top 70 mph, and expected extreme temperatures, according to PG&E’s Chief Meteorologist Scott Strenfel. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and North Ops predictive services “are indicating that this is a critical event, the strongest of the season,” Strenfel said.
The shut off affects customers across eight counties and will begin in stages starting at 10 a.m. Sunday. Power is expected to be switched back on Monday into Tuesday once the extreme weather passes.
Moving crews into place
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has increased staffing and has been coordinating with local fire agencies in pre-positioning fire resources in critical areas, according to a statement released by the agency on Saturday.
At least 8,000 fire incidents reported by Cal Fire have burned a record 4 million acres and claimed the lives of 31 people this year so far.
Cal Fire has asked residents in Red Flag areas to remain vigilant to prevent accidentally sparking a wildfire. Extremely dry, windy conditions with high gusts can damage trees and power lines and ignite fires in dry regions.
Heat waves and droughts in the West pose risk of wildfires
Drought, strong winds, dry vegetation and above average temperatures have persisted this fall in the West, elevating critical fire weather conditions across much of the region.
As authorities in California prepare for the worst, firefighters in Colorado are still battling the East Troublesome Fire, which continues to devastate parts of northern Colorado, swallowing homes and businesses in its path.
That blaze, near Grimes Peak in the Arapaho National Forest, has burned more than 190,000 acres and is only between 4% and 5% contained. Evacuations are continuing across Grand County.
Snow and cold temperatures moved into the Rockies and central Colorado late Saturday and will remain in the region Sunday, conditions that will help tamp down that blaze, meteorologists said.
There are currently 5,300 firefighters working to reach full containment on 21 wildfires in California, 12 of which are considered major incidents, according to a statement released by Cal Fire on Saturday.
Ten months into the year, more than 46,000 fires across the United States have burned more than 8.6 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s already 2 million more burned acres than the yearly average over the last 10 years. An average of 50,934 fires are reported each year.
This story has been updated with the latest number of northern Californians expected to be affected by planned power outages.