Thanksgiving Outages Could Return for Californians as Utilities Mull Cuts to Curb Fires
(Bloomberg) -- Utilities in Southern California may cut power to almost 200,000 homes and businesses over Thanksgiving to prevent live wires from sparking blazes as high winds sweep the drought-stricken region creating critical fire conditions.
Almost 152,000 customers of Edison International’s Southern California Edison face outages in six Southern California counties, including Los Angeles and Orange, if conditions get too dangerous, according to its website. Further south, San Diego Gas & Electric may cut off 43,333 customers. Both numbers are an increase from warnings on Tuesday.
That would mark the second consecutive year that Edison cut power to homes on Thanksgiving Day due to wildfire risks. Such weather-related outages have become routine in California, home to about 40 million people, as the warming climate worsens drought and turns what used to be a seasonal fire threat into a pervasive one.
Dry winds will sweep the region starting Wednesday and continue through Friday, raising the risk of dangerous fire conditions, the National Weather Service said. A red flag fire warning has been posted from Santa Barbara north of Los Angeles to the border with Mexico from Wednesday through the day on Friday and the U.S. Storm Prediction Center forecasts the situation will reach critical levels Wednesday and Thursday.
Across California, 8,367 fires have burned nearly 3.1 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of state and federal land this year, easily outstripping the five-year average of 5,581 fires charring 843,301 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire risk is made worse because all of the state is currently gripped by drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Currently three fires are burning, including one near Santa Barbara and another southeast of Los Angeles.
“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior,” the National Weather Service said in its warning. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly.”
In addition to the fire threat the winds themselves could damage buildings, topple trees and cause additional outages. In Cajon Pass, winds could gust to 75 miles (121 kilometers) per hour, and may reach 60 mph in many other places throughout Southern California.
When conditions become this severe, utilities will often preemptively shut off power to reduce the fire threat and their own liability. Earlier this week, thousands were threatened with outages as another wind event swept Southern California over the weekend.
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