SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Several northern California residents will have their power cut off Wednesday in an effort to prevent new wildfires from starting in a region already dealing with multiple blazes.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation's largest utility, said it has begun shutting off power to as many as 51,000 customers in 18 Northern California counties where strong winds were forecast to blow into late Wednesday and Thursday. Officials worry gusts ranging from 35-55 mph could topple power lines, or send trees into live wires, perhaps sparking new fires.
It's the first precautionary blackout by the utility since last year's historically bad fire season, according to the Associated Press.
The utility said the shutoffs were focused in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley and the North Bay mountains and could last into Wednesday afternoon, the AP reported.
Fire Weather Warnings were in effect across much of the Northern California interior with Wind Advisories stretching into western Nevada. The strongest winds were expected Wednesday afternoon and lingering into Wednesday night before tapering Thursday.
⚠️Red Flag Warning is now in effect from 1pm today through 8pm Wednesday for the mountains & portions of the Sacramento Valley due to gusty winds & extremely dry conditions.— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) August 17, 2021
Are you prepared for wildfire? Visit https://t.co/4PbDmtOuXj for preparedness tips. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/vxpWZk0M0h
Meanwhile, the dry, offshore wind loses even more moisture as it sinks down the various mountainsides, leaving relative humidity readings in the region as low as 8-20 percent.
Preventative power outages began in recent years around California during dangerous fire conditions after previous deadly wildfires were blamed on sparking equipment.
In 2018, 85 people died as the town of Paradise was destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire that investigators later determined had been ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. And this summer's Dixie Fire, which is currently the second-largest wildfire in California history at over 630,000 acres burned, is believed to have been caused by trees falling into power lines, PG&E told utility regulators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.