SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with historically heavy winds, Pacific Gas & Electric expanded its power outages across Northern California to about 1 million customers, meaning well more than 2 million people are in the dark Sunday.
PG&E has been shutting off power to residents to avoid fires sparked by electric lines. Sunday’s outages are by far the biggest such shut-offs, leaving many parts of the Bay Area, wine country, delta and Sacramento Valley under blackout conditions.
They came as a new fire broke out in the Bay Area. It erupted near the Carquinez Bridge, which connects Contra Costa County to Vallejo in Northern California, and quickly spread south of the Carquinez Strait. Officials called an evacuation warning for all of Crockett, an unincorporated community of about 3,000 people on the northwestern edge of Contra Costa County. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the southern half of the town, south of Pomona Street.
Shutoffs are a relatively new and controversial strategy aimed at reducing the risk of fires triggered by electrical lines like the ones that caused the wine country and Paradise infernos. Also Saturday, about 90,000 more Sonoma County residents, from Healdsburg to Bodega Bay and the Pacific Coast, were ordered to evacuate.
The duration of the extreme wind event, known in the Bay Area as Diablo winds, was forecast to be roughly 36 hours, from Saturday evening around 8 p.m. into Monday morning, with isolated gusts of 65 mph to 80 mph in the highest peaks in the North Bay. On Sunday morning, wind gusts topped 93 mph near Healdsburg, which was being threatened by the massive Kincade fire in Sonoma County.
This is definitely an event that we’re calling historic and extreme,” said David King, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Monterey office, which manages forecasts for the Bay Area.
Not only will winds be bad, but the air will be quite dry — relative humidity levels are forecast to fall between 15% and 30%; anything in the teens and 20s is really dry, King said.
By Dakota Smith, Colleen Shalby and Rong-Gong Lin II
Los Angeles Times