PG&E says it will not pre-emptively shut off power in fire-risk areas

View of Camp Fire from Chico, CA

Evacuations are underway as firefighters work to contain a 5,000-acre blaze in Butte County, Cal Fire said Thursday morning.
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Evacuations are underway as firefighters work to contain a 5,000-acre blaze in Butte County, Cal Fire said Thursday morning.

PG&E announced Thursday that it would not be preemptively shutting off power to Northern California residents in response to high fire-risk conditions, a shift after two days of announcements warning customers of the potential for power loss.

PG&E began notifying 70,000 customers Tuesday that it might shut off power in parts of eight Northern California counties where fast-moving, gusty winds increased the likelihood of wildfires after a Red Flag Warning was issued for the area, according to a news release issued by the San Francisco-based utility.

“We want to thank our customers for their understanding and for their actions in preparation of a possible public safety power shutoff. We know how much our customers rely on electric service, and we will only consider temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety and as a last resort during extreme weather conditions to reduce the risk of wildfire,” PG&E senior vice president of Electric Operations Pat Hogan said in the release.

Power has been lost in areas of Butte County after a massive, rapidly growing wildfire started earlier in the day. As of 1 p.m., 34,000 households in Butte County were without power, some due to shutoffs requested by fire personnel, but most was caused by fire damage, PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. preemptively shut off customers’ power for the first time on Oct. 14, affecting about 59,000 households over the course of four days.

Some customers complained about the October outage after a grocery store’s unrefrigerated food spoiled, businesses lost thousands in revenue, and at least one elderly resident was taken to the hospital when an oxygen machine stopped working.

During the October outages, Cal Fire distanced itself from PG&E in a statement, saying that it was not involved in the decision and it would only request power shutoffs in the case of an active wildfire.

Consumer advocacy groups criticized the October outages and Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell said winds in his city were not strong enough to justify power shutoffs, but PG&E defended its decision in a report sent Wednesday to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Cal Fire blamed PG&E in June for more than a dozen wine country wildfires that started in October 2017 and caused $9.4 billion in property damage.

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