Californians face power cut amid wildfires

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Millions of Californians face having their power cut as fire fighters continue to battle a surge in wildfires in the state.

Pacific Gas & Electric PG&E said it may have to turn off power in 36 counties amid forecasts of a “historic wind event”, which it said could damage facilities and cause new fires.

The warning came as wildfires forced some 50,000 people from their homes.

A state of emergency has been declared in Los Angeles and Sonoma counties.

California’s fire department says the state is experiencing “critical fire weather”.

Commenting on the latest fire, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday that PG&E “simply did not do their job”. He condemned “years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement in the utilities”.

Cause of wildfires
According to a report filed to the California Public Utilities Commisssion on Thursday, a “broken jumper” which connects power lines to towers was discovered at 21:20 local time on Wednesday.

The fire began at 21:27, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

PG&E said the Kincade Fire that started in northern California on Wednesday began seven minutes after the broken jumper.

It has not yet confirmed whether the power glitch sparked the Kincade Fire.

High winds appear to have spread the fires, gusts of up to 70mph (112km/h) have swept much of the state.

California is affected by Santa Ana winds, which are known for being dry and gusty, exacerbating wildfires.

Affected areas
On Thursday morning, PG&E shut off power in 15 California counties to prevent accidental fires, affecting about 180,000 homes.

Power was restored to most customers on Thursday night. But officials warn of more outages over the weekend in regions experiencing high winds and dry heat.

Schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District remained closed on Friday because of air quality and safety concerns.

Warning from PG&E
PG&E on Friday warned about 850,000 customers whose households are estimated to contain about two million people, that they “may be impacted” by a power cut between Saturday evening and midday on Monday, citing forecasts of potential extreme weather.

“PG&E will need to turn off power for safety several hours before the potentially damaging winds arrive,” the company said in a statement.

“The weather event could be the most powerful in California in decades.”

The company said high winds “pose a higher risk of damage and sparks on the electric system and rapid wildfire spread”, adding that vegetation was especially vulnerable to fire because it had been dried out by previous winds.

The warning from PG&E came as the company faced scrutiny over its possible role in the fires.

The deadliest wildfire in the state’s history which killed 85 people in northern California in 2018 was caused by PG&E power lines.

 

Nneka Ukachukwu