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PG&E will shut off power to nearly entire Bay Area

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San Francisco will keep the lights on, but utility company says other Bay Area counties face anti-fire blackout

Power lines and towers surrounded by dry, yellow grass. Armin van Buuren

Update: PG&E confirmed Tuesday that it will proceed with power shutoffs in portions of 34 counties in California, which will affect service for nearly 800,000 customers.

The utility company plans to turn off power in areas shortly after midnight. The power will be shut off to communities in several stages, depending on wind conditions and beginning with counties in the northern part of the state.

PG&E has been notifying affected customers via automated calls, texts, and emails.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has planned for potentially huge intentional blackouts that may affect as many as 30 counties in Northern California, including Sonoma, Napa, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties as an anti-wildfire measure.

According to a Monday announcement, the culprit is “a potentially widespread, strong and dry wind event” starting Wednesday morning and lasting through Thursday afternoon.

San Francisco Chronicle energy reporter J.D. Morris called the plan to shut off this much power in the Bay Area “unprecedented.”

The National Weather Service issued a Fire Weather Watch for much of Northern California and the Bay Area early Monday. The agency warns that, by midweek, a combination of strong and gusty offshore winds, low humidity, and dry fuels will create dangerous fire weather conditions in the East Bay, North Bay, and Santa Cruz Mountains.

PG&E has planned these purposeful blackouts for fear that its power lines and other electrical equipment may start fires during vulnerable times.

These outages can affect even cities like San Francisco—which is rarely in direct danger from wildfires—since portions of the grid critical to keeping the lights on in SF may be turned off elsewhere for fear of errant sparks.

SF appears to be off the hook this time, as the utility company does not list San Francisco in its watch list. But nearly everywhere else in the Bay Area is fair game.

The blackout plan is still not definitive, with the utility warning that it’s “considering proactively turning off power” in the relevant counties and says it will update as conditions develop later in the week.

Past power shutoffs in Northern California this year, like the ones in Napa County and the Sierra Foothills, were resolved in one day or less. However, the company warned customers earlier this year that it may keep the lights off for as long as seven days in particularly dire fire conditions.

Cal Fire reports that there’s already a fire burning in Napa County, starting Sunday afternoon. The 500-plus acre blaze was some 80 percent contained by Monday morning.