Californians catch a break: Impact of latest power shutoff reduced; overdue rain may prevent fires

SAN FRANCISCO – Improved weather conditions lessened the impact of the latest preemptive power outage in Northern California, where the state’s largest utility began turning the lights back on to many affected customers.

Those fed up with the frequent intentional blackouts may find relief from the forecast in the days before Thanksgiving.

PG&E said it restored power to 10,000 customer accounts, or about 25,000 of the 120,000 people it left in the dark Wednesday in the company’s latest attempt at preventing its equipment from igniting wildfires amid dry and windy conditions. PG&E was blamed for setting off some of the deadliest and most destructive fires in state history the past two years.

The utility initially indicated it would cut off electricity to 375,000 homes and businesses – affecting nearly 1 million people – as predictions called for dangerous fire weather. The scope of the blackouts was reduced to 50,000 subscribers in 11 counties when the forecast changed.

That’s still a major disruption but considerably smaller than the Public Safety Power Shutoffs in October, one of which affected more than 2.5 million people.

“This is terribly frustrating and terribly disturbing if you’re on the receiving end of this. We get that,” company CEO Andy Vesey said Wednesday.

Smoke billows around power transmission lines as the Camp Fire burns in Big Bend, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Photo: Noah Berger, AP)

PG&E issued an “all-clear’’ signal early Thursday morning, meaning weather danger had passed, but its workers still needed to inspect power lines in the affected areas before reenergizing them. That process is expected to be completed by Thursday evening.

Recovering: How wildfire victims are rekindling community a year after devastating, deadly Camp Fire

Higher humidity, cloud cover and even some rain showers this week in the Sierra Nevada helped reduce the risk, said Scott Strenfel, principal meteorologist for PG&E.

“All of these factors kind of broke in all of our favor,” he said.

Calfire reported no active wildfire incidents in the state.

The early part of next week presents some fire risks, but customers may be in for a break from the outages – and PG&E from the constant criticism – with the expected arrival of overdue rain showers.

Southern California got a sprinkling of precipitation Thursday, and some more could be in store for next week. The forecast is even more encouraging for Northern California, which has been parched during the beginning of what’s supposed to be the rainy season.

Rain is forecast Tuesday for the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada, which could also get snow showers.

“Rain chances will develop by late Tuesday of next week and possibly impact the Thanksgiving holiday,’’ the National Weather Service said in its Bay Area forecast.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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