Californians hit with second round of sweeping blackouts

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dangerously windy weather sweeping through the state brought power outages to Northern California as the state's largest utility staged blackouts designed to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Wednesday began rolling blackouts stretching from the Sierra foothills in the northeast to portions of the San Francisco Bay Area. A couple of counties kept their power until after midnight.

The blackouts impact a half-million people — or nearly 180,000 customers — in 15 counties, and PG&E warned that a second round of outages could occur over the weekend when winds return to the region.

In the south, where hot, dry Santa Ana winds were expected to hit Thursday, Southern California Edison warned that it might black out about 308,000 customers — perhaps 750,000 people — depending on the forecast.

San Diego Gas & Electric warned of power shutoffs to about 24,000 customers.

The utilities have said the precautionary blackouts are designed to keep winds that could gust to 60 mph (97 kph) or more from knocking branches into power lines or toppling them, sparking wildfires.

Electrical equipment was blamed for setting several fires in recent years that killed scores of people and burned thousands of homes.

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A car drives passed a power station in Mill Valley, California as a statewide blackout continues on October, 10, 2019. - More than a million Californians were without electricity due to pre-emptive blackouts October 10, 2019, but localized fires broke out as hot, windy conditions spread south toward Los Angeles. Some 600,000 customers in northern California were in the dark after Pacific Gas & Electric began switching off power the previous day, in a bid to prevent a repeat of last year's catastrophic inferno which killed 86 people. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
SONOMA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Traffic lights in the Sonoma area are out due to power outages on October 10, 2019 in Sonoma, California. Power outages were scheduled as preemptive moves by PG&E to address hot, dry and windy weather and the risk of wildfires, according to the company. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
A bicyclist rides passed high-tension power lines in Mill Valley, California as a statewide blackout continues on October, 10, 2019. - More than a million Californians were without electricity due to pre-emptive blackouts October 10, 2019, but localized fires broke out as hot, windy conditions spread south toward Los Angeles. Some 600,000 customers in northern California were in the dark after Pacific Gas & Electric began switching off power the previous day, in a bid to prevent a repeat of last year's catastrophic inferno which killed 86 people. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: The city of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge are seen from the Oakland hills during the PG&E power outage in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. More than 700,000 homes and businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area were affected by the power shutoff, according to PG&E. (Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Streaks of tail lights of a vehicle make a turn on MacArthur Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue in the Dimond district during the PG&E power outage in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. More than 700,000 homes and businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area were affected by the power shutoff, according to PG&E. (Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Oakland police officers in a police cruiser stay alert in the Montclair shopping district during the PG&E power outage in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. More than 700,000 homes and businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area were affected by the power shutoff, according to PG&E. (Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
SAUSALITO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Akber Jiwani (R), the owner of New Bait Shop, and David Johnson (L), owner of Davey Jones Market, talk to a customer in front of their store darkened by a power outage on October 10, 2019 in Sausalito, California. Power outages were scheduled as preemptive moves by PG&E to address hot, dry and windy weather and the risk of wildfires, according to the company. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAUSALITO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: A sign posted on the door of Saltaj Indian Cafe announces closure due to power outages on October 10, 2019 in Sausalito, California. Power outages were scheduled as preemptive moves by PG&E to address hot, dry and windy weather and the risk of wildfires, according to the company. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
MARIN CITY, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: The CVS store in Marin City is shown closed due to power outages on October 10, 2019 in Marin City, California. Power outages were scheduled as preemptive moves by PG&E to address hot, dry and windy weather and the risk of wildfires, according to the company. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
A sign calling for utility company PG&E to turn the power back on is seen on the side of the road during a statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, on October, 10, 2019 - Rolling blackouts set to affect millions of Californians began October 9, as Pacific Gas & Electric started switching off power to an unprecedented number of households in the face of hot, windy weather that raises the risk of wildfires. PG & E, which announced the deliberate outage, is working to prevent a repeat of a catastrophe last November in which faulty power lines it owned were determined to have sparked California's deadliest wildfire in modern history. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
A Valero gas station sits vacant after power was shut down as part of a statewide blackout in Santa Rosa, California on October, 10, 2019. - Rolling blackouts set to affect millions of Californians began October 9, as Pacific Gas & Electric started switching off power to an unprecedented number of households in the face of hot, windy weather that raises the risk of wildfires. PG & E, which announced the deliberate outage, is working to prevent a repeat of a catastrophe last November in which faulty power lines it owned were determined to have sparked California's deadliest wildfire in modern history. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
NAPA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 10: Stop signs are displayed at an intersection where traffic lights are out due to a PG&E power outage October 10, 2019 in Napa, California. PG&E has continued plans to cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers across central and northern California as a precaution against starting wildfires as low humidity and high winds increase the threat in the area. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 09: ATM machines at the Chase bank are still illuminated minutes after the power went out in the Montclair District of Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Power was supposed to go out at noon in Montclair, but the PG&E shutoff was delayed until approximately 10:37 p.m. (Photo by Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
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"We understand the hardship caused by these shutoffs," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Wednesday. "But we also understand the heartbreak and devastation caused by catastrophic wildfires."

The latest outage comes two weeks after PG&E shut down the power for several days to about 2 million people in northern and central California.

The current outages will last about 48 hours, the utility said. But its seven-day forecast shows a likelihood of another planned blackout across a much larger area. The timing wasn't clear but it could start as early as Saturday, when even heavier winds are expected to move through.

Crews will begin inspecting lines to make sure they're safe

"This could be the strongest wind event of the season, unfortunately," PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel said.

Strenfel called the current wind event a "California-wide phenomenon." Conditions should begin easing in the northern part of the state around midday Thursday, when crews will begin inspecting lines to make sure they're safe to re-energize.

That's when Santa Ana winds were expected to begin whipping up in the south.

The small city of Calistoga, in the Napa Valley, known for its hot springs and wineries, was among those hit by Wednesday's outage.

"It's very frustrating," said Michael Dunsford, owner of the 18-room Calistoga Inn, which has rented two powerful generators for the month at a cost of $5,000. Like many, he felt the outages need to be better managed, better targeted and less expansive.

"Right now, we have no wind. Zero. I don't even see a single leaf blowing. Did they really have to cut the power right now?" he said, shortly after the lights went out Wednesday afternoon and he revved up the generators. "When the wind picks up to 40 mph maybe that's a good time to close the power."

"They're not appreciating enough the impact this has on everybody," he said about PG&E.

Some of the frustration was being taken out on PG&E employees, the company's CEO said.

'There is no justification for this sort of violence'

Johnson said Wednesday that a PG&E employee was the target of what appeared to be a deliberate attack in Glenn County. He said a projectile that may have come from a pellet gun hit the employee's front window. The employee wasn't hurt.

"There is no justification for this sort of violence," Johnson said. "Wherever you see crews they are there to help you."

Mandatory evacuations were prompted east of Geyserville after a wildfire sparked in northeastern Sonoma County along the Lake County line late Wednesday.

The Press Democrat reports that according to dispatch reports, the Kincade fire spread to about 1,000 acres by 11 p.m.

Cal Fire spokesman Will Powers said the blaze near the Geysers area was burning at a "dangerous rate."

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said PG&E was better this time about getting information to people who would be affected, but he was still astonished by the need to resort to largescale blackouts.

"I am a big believer in shutdowns to prevent fires. But the thing that erodes public trust is when it doesn't make sense," he said. "You say, 'God, I know if we can put a man on the moon ... we can manage a (power) grid.'"

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