PG&E Planning Potential Power Shutoffs in California Amid Raging Dixie Fire

PG&E Planning Potential Power Shutoffs in California Amid Raging Dixie Fire
Photo: JOSH EDELSON / Contributor, Getty Images

As the Dixie Fire continues to spread unabated in California, Pacific Gas & Electric — the largest utility company in the U.S. state — said that it was mulling potential power cuts in the areas closest to the blaze in an effort to proactively control its spread.

In a Sunday night Facebook post, the utility said that its meteorologists were monitoring a “potential dry offshore wind event,” which could run the risk of energising power lines and sparking additional wildfires.

“Given this wind event and current conditions including extreme to exceptional drought and extremely dry vegetation, PG&E has begun sending 48-hour advance notifications to customers in targeted areas where PG&E may need to proactively turn power off for safety to reduce the risk of wildfire from energised power lines,” the company wrote.

At least 16 California counties were being targeted as part of the planned outages, the company said, a swath of land large enough to potentially affect some 39,000 customers. PG&E said that the largest concentration of shutoffs could be expected in Butte and Shasta counties, where the Dixie Fire is currently raging.

Since it began, the Dixie Fire has burned through more than 230,600 hectares of Northern Californian land, leaving as many as 900 homes destroyed in its wake. Thunderstorms and arid conditions, combined with high temperatures topping out at around 38 degrees Celsius, have allowed the fire to continue to tear through the state unstemmed.

As of August 15, the fire was only 31 per cent contained. The blaze is the second-largest fire in California history and the biggest single fire on record in the state.

“Thirty plus days on the incident is becoming the norm now here in California,” an incident commander for firefighting efforts said during a Monday morning briefing. “The fuels conditions are worse than we’ve ever seen, the fire behaviour is worse than we’ve ever seen. It’s not unprecedented anymore, it’s the norm.”

While PG&E is still in the preliminary stages of delivering a report to state regulators, early signs point to the fact that the company’s equipment may have played a role in starting the deadly blaze.

The power shutoffs being proposed to control the fire’s spread are the second major initiative PG&E has introduced as part of its efforts to bring the disaster to heel. Last month, the company announced a separate plan to bury up to 16,000 kilometres of power lines in California underground in an effort to prevent future fires and limit the need for future preventive outages.