Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has put 29 California counties, including Tuolumne and Calaveras, on notice about the potential need to shut off power this week due to gusty winds and low humidity Wednesday into Thursday afternoon.
Liz Peterson, coordinator of the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency, said she was notified by PG&E Monday morning that the chances of them shutting off power in portions of the county was likely at some point between 4 a.m. Wednesday and noon on Thursday.
Peterson noted that all Tuolumne County residents should prepare to without power for up to five days.
Brandi Merlo, spokeswoman for PG&E, said they did not yet know which specific areas of Tuolumne or Calaveras counties could experience a so-called “Public Safety Power Shutoff,” something the company began doing this year to prevent fires.
“Everyone should be prepared,” Merlo said.
The company let county officials know earlier this summer that they would likely have to shut off the power at some point when the threat of fire is high. They recently had one over the weekend that affected thousands of customers in Butte, Plumas, and Yuba counties for about a day.
Merlo said customers should be prepared to be without power for one or two days after the weather event is over.
“We have to wait for the all clear before we can send crews out to patrol by helicopter, on foot, and in vehicles to fix any damage so that we can safely turn the power back on,” she said of the reason for the potential delay in restoring power.
Customers will not have to pay for electricity during the shut off, but Merlo said the company will not pay claims because the purpose is for public safety and notifications will be issued in advance.
The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for most of interior Northern California on Monday for what it says is shaping up to be the “biggest fire weather event of the season.”
A low-pressure system building offshore is expected to bring sustained winds of about 15 to 20 miles per hour to Sonora beginning Wednesday, with gusts up to 35 to 45 miles per hour.
Minimum daytime humidity is also expected to be between 10 and 20 percent. People are recommended to avoid outdoor burning during the period due to the conditions that could help a fire spread rapidly.
Miranda Bowersox, spokeswoman for Butte County, said they reached out to people with access and functional needs prior to the shut off there over the weekend.
“We had our employment and social services departments check on those with access and functional needs, then ensured the continuity of operations as far as the county government is concerned,” Bowersox said.
Bowersox said her address wasn’t by the shut off.
A warning about the possibility of shut offs was sent out by PG&E to all of its roughly 5 million customers in May.
Merlo said this would be the fourth time they’ve had to do shut offs this year, with the first occurring in June and affecting 22,600 PG&E customers in parts of Yolo, Solano, Napa, Butte and Yuba counties.
Power was shut off overnight to the customers in June. Another one during the week of Sept. 23 affected counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills north of Tuolumne.
The first time PG&E shut off power for safety reasons was October last year, which lasted 24 hours and affected more than 60,000 customers in the Sierra foothills, including several thousand in Calaveras County.
These shut offs come on the heels of the company filing for bankruptcy after its equipment was blamed for starting a number of major fires in recent years that have killed dozens of people and destroyed billions of dollars in property.
Local generator installers said they were seeing a boom in business earlier in the summer from people purchasing backup generators for their homes after PG&E announced the shut off plans.
The company has allowed non-account holders to sign up for alerts about the shut offs for certain ZIP codes. Merlo said a lot of people with elderly parents are signing up with their ZIP codes to keep them up to date.
All of the latest updates on the potential power shut offs are available on the company’s website at www.pge.com/weather .
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.