Hundreds of Thousands of Californians Lose Power in Controversial Outages to Prevent Wildfires

Hundreds of thousands of California households — that could include millions of people — are reportedly without power after the state’s largest utility provider decided to cut electricity in specific areas of the state in an effort to prevent wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric began turning off power for residents around midnight on Tuesday due to strong winds that could knock over power lines, according to the Los Angeles Times. Five-hundred thousand customers had their power switched off Tuesday but a later set of cuts to around 250,000 additional customers was delayed, The New York Times reported.

The precautionary approach — which has been met with outcry about its scope — came after a massive blaze, thought to have been sparked by downed power lines, ravaged parts of Northern California last year.

That fire was the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

Southern California Edison, another one of the state’s main electricity providers, said it planned to cut power for more than 100,000 customers, CNN reported.

On Monday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told residents to be prepared to go without power for much of the week, according to CNN.

“Given the prolonged period during which the wind event will unfold, and the large number of power line miles that will need to be inspected before restoration, customers are being asked to prepare for an extended outage,” PG&E said in a news release. “PG&E will work with state and local agencies to provide updated restoration timelines following the conclusion of the severe weather event.”

Firefighters work on a controlled burn at a wildfire, in Magalia, Calif. in 2018

News of the outages struck a chord among affected residents. State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo told the L.A. Times that he believed the utility company was being unreasonable with the number of areas it planned to cut.

“I think it is excessive,” Hill told the newspaper. ”PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe. These shutdowns are supposed to be surgical. But shutting down power to 800,000 people in 31 counties is by no means surgical.”

“This cannot be something that can be acceptable nor long-term,” he added. “This is Third World, and we are not.”

As word of the outages spread, supermarkets were flooded with customers hoping to stock up on supplies to last them through the week, according to ABC News. Many schools and businesses closed down in anticipation of the cuts.

“It’s unreasonable. There’s no wind. It’s nothing. There’s no reason why they should shut the power off,” Joseph Pokorski, a retiree living in Sonoma, told ABC. “They’re… closing everything down so they don’t get sued. They don’t trim the trees, so we suffer.”

In its release, PG&E advised residents to plan for medical needs, identify backup charging methods for their electronics and to restock emergency kits with flashlights, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom voiced his displeasure with the company’s plan.

“No one is satisfied with this,” he said. “No one is happy with this.”


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