The utility Pacific Gas and Electric had at least one helicopter crew in the air patrolling power lines Friday between New Melones and Yosemite National Park as part of a drill to prepare utility workers and contractors for imposed power shutdowns when wildfire risks increase.

No power shutoffs will actually happen, Brandi Merlo with PG&E marketing and communications said in an announcement Friday morning.

The patrol flights started about 9 a.m. The utility calls the drill a company-wide public safety power shutoff preparedness exercise.

People with PG&E emergency response team are doing the drill to help the utility be better prepared for real events if and when imposed shutdowns are necessary later this summer.

Utility-imposed power shutdowns are never popular, and many Mother Lode residents were frustrated and angry when they happened during heat events and wind events last summer and fall.

Pacific Gas and Electric, its equipment, and its power line maintenance contractors have been found at fault in multiple deadly, destructive megablazes in recent years, including the 2015 Butte Fire that burned up 110 square miles and more than 800 homes and other buildings, and contributed to the deaths of two residents in Calaveras County.

In December 2019, PG&E proposed to settle all claims from the 2015 Butte Fire; the December 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire that resulted in 36 deaths in Oakland; the October 2017 Tubbs Fire that burned more than 5,600 structures and killed at least 22 people in Wine Country; and the November 2018 Camp Fire that burned up 18,800 buildings and killed at least 85 people in Butte County, for a total of $13.5 billion. The offer was intended to help the utility avoid bankruptcy, which happened anyway.

The utility emerged from its second effort at Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1 this year, as a new company with a restructured board of directors and an interim chief executive officer.

PG&E power line patrols on Friday were expected to be conducted by helicopter crew members and utility crews on the ground, and they were expected to conclude by 4 p.m.

“Given the continued and growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires,” PG&E communications staff said, “we are expanding and enhancing our Community Wildfire Safety Program to further reduce wildfire risks and help keep our customers and the communities we serve safe.”

The sole purpose of a public safety power shutoff is to reduce the risk of major wildfires during severe weather, PG&E staff said. More than half the area where PG&E customers live and work is at high risk for wildfires. Turning off power can prevent wildfires, it can disrupt lives, and it can include its own risks, particularly for those who need power for medical equipment.


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Contact Guy McCarthy at or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.


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