Power outages look for millions of Calif. residents as PG&E faces scrutiny for degrading infrastructure – The Washington Post

The winds relented on Friday night, allowing fire crews to gain ground on the blaze, the Los Angeles Times reported. But it will likely be a brief respite before conditions worsen dramatically.

The National Weather Service warned “a long duration and potentially . . . historic [wind] event” was expected to bring 85 mph gusts through the mountain regions of Northern and Central California between Saturday night and Monday morning with lesser, but still powerful, winds reaching valleys and coastal areas.

The strong winds in the forecast will pose a high risk of sparks, which would lead to potentially rapidly spreading wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric said in a statement Friday. Approximately 850,000 customers, comprising millions of people across Northern and Central California, could be without power through the weekend as PG&E stood ready to cut power to the regions most at risk from the blaze.

PG&E is facing extreme scrutiny after reporting that, although the company said it cut power in Northern California on Wednesday, it had left stretches of high-voltage power transmission lines active in the region where the Sonoma County fire broke out. The same type of transmission line was responsible for the state’s deadliest wildfire ever — the Camp Fire in 2018.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said there have been discussions about PG&E’s culpability, but they were not “conclusive.”

The blame for the fire “is neither determined nor is that investigation complete,” he said, adding that he plans to hold the company accountable for “years and years of mismanagement.”

PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson said the company is conducting an internal investigation but has not accepted responsibility for the fire, adding that officials don’t know precisely how it started. “We still, at this point, do not know what exactly happened,” he said at a Thursday news conference.

In Santa Rosa, residents are only just rebuilding from the havoc wrought by the Tubbs Fire, which took lives and destroyed homes in 2017.

On Friday afternoon, a clear blue sky was broken by a gray plume that loomed over brown hills dotted with trees. Residents were on edge.

Natalie Pinzón, 45, who lives in Santa Rosa, lost her home two years ago. Five months after she moved into her newly rebuilt house, the Kincade fire brought those memories flooding back.

“It’s kind of sad the things that have been happening,” said Pinzón, who said there was little people could do — except to prepare the region’s power infrastructure for the future. “The thing is, we have to start doing something right now to make things better here.”

Terry Marshall said the nearby fire was alarming residents in her own Santa Rosa neighborhood. Their important documents were packed away in a suitcase in case they needed to flee.

“Certainly, it’s very frightening and it’s anxiety-producing for the community,” she said. “I know yesterday we were all very anxious at work.”

Marshall’s power has been shut down several times in the past few weeks, which she said has been scary and a source of anxiety. “At the same time,” she said, “I have an 11-year-old son and we play a lot of board games and do a lot of reading and try to make the best of it.”

The weekend outage would mark the second major shut-off spurred by PG&E this month. Power cuts from the gas and electric company about two weeks ago left nearly 2 million people without power at its apex. Newsom has expressed frustration over the shut-offs and urged PG&E to be more consistent in its communication to affected customers. In a Thursday letter to the company’s leadership, Newsom wrote that “the only consistency has been inconsistency.”

Newsom declared a state of emergency Friday in Sonoma County and Los Angeles County, where the Tick Fire, north of Los Angeles, raged through the city of Santa Clarita and quickly grew to 4,300 acres, igniting several homes, officials said. More than 600 firefighters were dispatched to battle the blaze, backed by four airplane tankers and six helicopters, as it raced toward densely packed communities.

Flames rolled out of the valley foothills into neighborhoods, sending residents into a panic as only 5 percent of the fire was contained by Friday evening. Several fire lanes tore through residential areas, the Los Angeles Times reported, and some people wielded garden hoses in a futile effort to protect their homes.

At least eight homes have been damaged or lost to the fire, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby said in a Friday news conference. As officials gauge the full scope of the damage, Osby said his crew felt they had made “good progress to allow repopulation.” Officials started to allow residents to return to certain locations in Santa Clarita on Friday evening.

Andrew Freedman contributed to this report from Washington. Brice-Saddler reported from Washington.

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