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October 10, 2019

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Blackouts in California amid threat of wildfires

Rolling blackouts affecting up to 800,000 customers began yesterday in parts of California as a utility company switched off power because of hot, windy weather that raises the risk of wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which announced the three-phase deliberate power outage, is working to prevent a repeat of a catastrophe last November in which power lines it owned were determined to have sparked California’s deadliest wildfire ever.

In that inferno, 85 people died and a town called Paradise was virtually destroyed. The company has been found responsible for dozens of other wildfires in recent years, too.

This is peak wildfire season in California.

PG&E said the severe weather incident prompting the precautions this time — hot, dry conditions and winds gusting at up to 110 kilometers per hour — is expected to last through mid-day today in parts of northern and central California.

The outages could last up to a week in some places. The city of San Francisco is not affected by the intentional shutoff but much of the surrounding Bay Area could go dark including parts of Silicon Valley. 

The first part of the so-called public safety power shutoff began at midnight Tuesday in northern California. It will affect around 513,000 customers there. Schools and universities canceled classes yesterday and people stocked up on gasoline, water, batteries and other basics, news reports said.

PG&E said it expected to start turning the power back on today but can only do this after inspecting its equipment for damage.


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