Fierce Winds Raise California Fire Threat, Bring Blackouts
(Bloomberg) -- Dangerous winds will rake the hills and valleys of drought-parched California, heightening the risk of catastrophic wildfires and prompting the state’s biggest utility to cut power to thousands of customers.
Critical fire weather conditions stretch through the entire Central Valley and red-flag fire warnings have been posted through Tuesday by the National Weather Service. Wind gusts could reach 60 miles an hour (97 kph), across an area that’s already parched because of a long-term drought.
The risk that dry gales could blow tree branches onto live power lines prompted PG&E Corp. to start turning off electricity Monday morning to about 25,000 customers across northern and central California.
Edison International’s Southern California Edison said about 9,100 customers in Los Angeles and two other counties were at risk of blackouts.
The warnings come as California enters its peak wildfire season, when so-called Diablo and Santa Ana winds come roaring from the east over hillsides and through canyons, creating ripe conditions for the rapid spread of blazes. The gusts have fanned some of the state’s deadliest wildfires including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and leveled the town of Paradise.
The fire danger is especially high this year as much of the state remains in the grip of a severe drought that left grassy hillsides and forests bone dry. Through Oct. 6, California’s 7,883 fires charred just under 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares), more than double the five-year average for the same period.
“Strong Santa Ana winds are forecast for several areas in our service area today and tomorrow, including areas that haven’t received significant rain, with the highest winds from noon today until noon on Tuesday,” said Reggie Kumar, a spokesman for Southern California Edison.
California’s big utilities have been using the controversial practice of preemptively cutting power ahead of windstorms after their equipment sparked several devastating blazes in the past several years.
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