Update 6:20 p.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric says it expects to get the all-clear before dawn Thursday to begin the process of restoring power to more than 100,000 people hit by a planned blackout.

The utility says 48,000 customers — about 120,000 people — in 10 Northern and central California counties lost electricity Wednesday. That was only about a third the number PG&E originally estimated it would black out because of forecasts for dry, windy weather that posed a wildfire threat.

Wednesday evening, officials said the weather actually proved more favorable, with cloud cover, increased humidity and rain helping reduce the footprint of the outage.

Some power already is being restored. Officials say an expected all-clear determination about Thursday’s weather will allow the utility to send helicopters at daybreak to check for wind damage to power lines so full restoration can proceed.

Update 12:57 p.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric announced Wednesday that customers in six counties won't lose power after all. 

Power will not be shutoff in El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sierra, Yuba and western Sonoma County.  

"Due to improving weather conditions, 83,000 customers originally expected to lose power for safety are no longer part of this Public Safety Power Shutoff," said Brandi Merlo, spokesperson for PG&E. 

About 14,000 customers in Butte, Plumas, Tehama and Yuba could still be affected by the power shutoffs, according to the press release.  

Update 7:40 a.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric has begun shutting off power to people in the San Francisco Bay Area and portions of California’s northern coast amid warm and windy weather that can help fan wildfires. The utility is trying to prevent its power lines from sparking fires.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen says some people in the wine country counties of Napa and Sonoma lost electricity at about 7 a.m. Power has also been cut in parts of Mendocino and Yolo counties.

No details were immediately provided as to how many people lost electricity, but the shut-offs are expected to affect 375,000 people and last into Thursday.

Officials in some counties say schools, libraries and other public buildings will be closed Wednesday because of the outages.

It’s the latest in a series of mass, planned outages prompted by extreme fire risk weather conditions over the past two months.

Update 10:30 p.m.:

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) was set to begin shutting off power Wednesday to some 150,000 customers in 18 Northern and central California counties as the region faces extreme fire weather that’s lasted since October.

A virtually rainless fall has left brush bone-dry and forecasts called for low humidity and winds gusting at times to 55 mph (88.5 kph), which might fling tree branches or other debris into power lines, causing sparks that could set catastrophic fires in the region, PG&E officials said.

One Napa County reporting station hasn’t seen a measurable drop of rain since mid-September — the first time that’s happened since 1905, said Scott Strenfel, PG&E's principal meteorologist.

The northern Sierra Nevada has seen a fraction of an inch of rain in the past two months instead of the usual 5 inches (127 millimeters), he said.

“This lack of rain is keeping the threat of fire very real, this late in the season, in many areas,” said Scott Strenfel, PG&E's principal meteorologist.

Ironically, the dry weather up north came as Southern California battened the hatches for a brief but fierce bout of rain. A storm system dumped about 2 inches (50.8 millimeters) of rain in the San Diego County area on Tuesday and more was expected Wednesday.

Flash flood watches were in effect for some communities east of Los Angeles, with storm warnings up for mountain communities.

Voluntary evacuation warnings were issued for a few communities in an area of Orange and Riverside counties that was burned in a wildfire last year.

In the north, however, warnings of extreme fire danger covered a large area.

California’s state fire agency placed fire engines and crews in position in some counties and had crews ready to staff aircraft and bulldozers.

The planned blackouts will affect counties north of Sacramento, in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills.

The weather should ease by Thursday morning, allowing PG&E to begin restoring power, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E's senior director of emergency preparedness and response.

The state’s largest utility decreased the number of people who could be affected from an original estimate of about 660,000 based on updated forecasts and some juggling of its power system. The utility said it will closely monitor the weather and could further reduce that number if it improves.

The planned blackout would be the latest in a series of massive outages by the country’s largest utility, including one last month that affected nearly 2.5 million people and outraged local officials and customers who accused the utility of overkill and using blackouts as a crutch because it failed to harden its equipment to withstand fire weather.

The outages have been “terribly disruptive” and PG&E is taking steps to avoid them in the future but at the moment, “we won’t roll the dice on public safety,” company CEO Andy Vesey said.

Meanwhile, California’s utilities regulators are demanding answers from wireless providers whose equipment failed during the power outages, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without a way to get emergency alerts or make 911 calls.

The California Public Utilities Commission holds a public hearing Wednesday with executives from AT&T, Comcast/Xfinity, T-Mobile and others.

In a letter calling for the meeting, CPUC President Marybel Batjer said that “lack of service is not a mere inconvenience— it endangers lives.” She said residents do not have the luxury of failed internet or cellphone connections during a wildfire or other disaster.

PG&E initiated four rounds of planned outages in October.

More than 450,000 people were without communication, according to a group representing rural counties in California. About half of Marin County’s cell sites were out of service.

Consumer advocates are urging the PUC to establish backup power requirements and make the companies provide detailed information about the location of outages.

The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services said in an Oct. 26 letter to communications companies that their level of engagement was “unacceptable” at a time when redundant infrastructure is necessary.

The utilities commission is frustrated with both communications and utilities companies, saying they failed to share detailed information in real time.

Businesses and residents also have complained of poor communications and say that the outages were overly broad and carried out thoughtlessly.

Update 9 p.m.:

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said it will begin shutting off power to about 150,000 customers in 18 Northern and Central California counties on Wednesday because of the wildfire threat from another round of dry, windy weather.

The state’s largest utility decreased the number of people who could be affected by an original estimate of about 660,000 based on updated forecasts and said it will closely monitor the weather and could further reduce that number if it improves.

At the same time, PG&E officials said it wasn’t taking any chances when, in the middle of November, the usual rain hasn’t fallen in some areas, brush remains bone-dry and winds that could gust to 55 mph (88.5 kph) might knock tree branches or other debris into power lines, causing sparks that could set catastrophic fires.

“This lack of rain is keeping the threat of fire very real, this late in the season, in many areas,” said Scott Strenfel, PG&E's principal meteorologist.

The planned blackouts will affect counties north of Sacramento, in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills.

The weather should ease by Thursday morning, allowing PG&E to begin restoring power, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E's senior director of emergency preparedness and response.

The planned blackout would be the latest in a series of massive outages by the country’s largest utility, including one last month that affected nearly 2.5 million people and outraged local officials and customers who accused the utility of overkill and using blackouts as a crutch because it failed to harden its equipment to withstand fire weather.

The outages have been “terribly disruptive” and PG&E is taking steps to avoid them in the future but at the moment, “we won’t roll the dice on public safety,” company CEO Andy Vesey said.

Update 7:30 p.m.:

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) says it will begin shutting off the power to about 375,000 people in 18 Northern and Central California counties on Wednesday to avoid the risk of its equipment sparking catastrophic wildfires.

The utility announced Tuesday evening that it reduced the footprint of the planned blackouts despite projected dry, windy red-flag conditions of extreme fire danger in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, California’s wine country and the Sierra foothills.

PG&E says it expects to get the all-clear Thursday morning to start restoring electricity.

The country’s largest utility has hit California with a series of massive outages, including one last month for nearly 2.5 million people that outraged local officials and customers.

PG&E officials say they’re aware of the disruption but outages are a public safety matter.

Original:

PG&E released a list of 16 counties that may be impacted by another round of potential power shutoffs on Wednesday. Officials say power may be shut off for about 181,000 customers due to weather conditions that could lead to fires.

The company said that the first round of shutoffs should start early Wednesday morning and could continue through Thursday. No exact times as to when the power would be shut off have been given by PG&E.

The 181,000 customers expected to be affected are in the following counties:

  • Butte = 14,110
  • El Dorado = 38,570
  • Glenn = 230
  • Lake = 13,370
  • Mendocino = 3,080
  • Napa = 11,180
  • Nevada = 30,030
  • Placer = 12,440
  • Plumas = 780
  • Shasta = 21,720
  • Sierra = 1,160
  • Solano = 1,970
  • Sonoma = 39,940
  • Tehama = 9,530
  • Yolo = 400
  • Yuba = 3,940

PG&E announced Tuesday afternoon that power should remain on in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

RELATED: Strong winds coming to Northern California Wednesday

During the fire weather watch time frame, gusty winds have the potential to spread fires quickly. Fuel is extremely dry right now, bringing additional concern fires will spread rapidly. A spark could very easily burn out of control before firefighters have the chance to intervene.

At the beginning of October, PG&E shut power off to more than 2 million people when powerful winds whipped up. This was a stark contrast to the September event, which only cut power to just over 100,000 customers.

While customers and state politicians were upset, PG&E said the blackouts worked because more than 100 reports of damage to powerlines were found after the public safety power shutoffs (PSPS).

PG&E transmission lines caused wildfires that killed more than 100 people in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire, California's deadliest in modern history.

RELATED: 

On Monday PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told angry California lawmakers that the nation’s largest electric utility wasn’t fully prepared for the effects of its unprecedented outages last month, even as it plans to shut off power to more than half a million people again this week to prevent wildfires.

Lawmakers wanted answers from Johnson and executives from the state’s other two investor-owned utilities about the shutoffs last month that caused life-saving medication to spoil, businesses to lose money and communications networks to go dark.

Johnson blamed his company’s poor response to the blackouts affecting millions of people partly on a sense of complacency after a much smaller outage went well earlier this year.

“We weren’t as well prepared as we thought, and we needed to give a little more attention — a lot more attention — to impacts after we shut the power off,” Johnson said. “I do think as things went on, we got better at each one of these.”

Johnson said PG&E has struggled to respond to the growing threat of wildfires over its coverage area of more than 70,000 square miles (181,299 square kilometers). In 2012, he said less than 15% of its power lines traversed areas at high risk for wildfires. Just seven years later, that’s grown to more than 50%.

The state’s two other investor-owned utilities — San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison — also have turned off power this year. But their shutoffs have affected far fewer people and been much shorter.

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