Forest fires, the bane of Central and Northern California, are now responsible for yet more inconveniences for people living in the state. Due to current dry, windy conditions, utility giant PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) has had to announce planned outages in several parts of California to avoid the risk of fire breaking out.
Authorities say that more than half of PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service area in Central and Northern California are at high risk because of the volume of dry grass and dead/dying trees that have tripled over the past seven years.
The Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events are happening in stages and being announced well in advance, so people can take precautionary steps to keep themselves and their community safe. As of Wednesday, October 23rd, there is a possibility of 17 counties and approximately 184,000 customers losing power for two days or more. (USA Today pegs the number of people likely to be affected at 500,000.) In a previous event earlier in the month, more than 800,000 people were left stranded without power.
“The sole purpose of PSPS is to significantly reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” says Michael Lewis, senior vice president for operations at PG&E. “As we saw in the last PSPS event, we had more than 100 instances of serious damage and hazard on our distribution and transmission lines from wind gusts of this strength.”
Predictably, residents of affected areas are less than happy with the predicament they are finding themselves in, despite the fact that such measures are taken to comprehensively manage the fire threat that has historically swept the state, year after year.
“We recognize the hardship that the recent PSPS event caused for millions of people and want to continue working with all key shareholders to lessen this burden going forward,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission. “At the same time, we ask our customers, their families, and our local and state leaders to keep in mind the statistic that matters most: there were no catastrophic wildfires.”
PG&E has put out a list of safety precautions to help customers cope with the planned power outages. We’re highlighting some of them here:
- Keep important phone numbers (hospital, fire department, police, friends etc.) at hand in case of emergencies.
- Have a backup plan to maintain life support equipment if you have it.
- Keep a cell phone or hardwired, single-line telephone on hand.
- Remember that cordless phones do not work without electricity.
- Keep a flashlight with extra, fresh batteries in a convenient place.
- Avoid using candles because of risk of fire. If you must use candle, take extreme precautions.
- Turn off major appliances (such as air-conditioners and washer/dryers) prior to the outage, so they don’t turn on unexpectedly when power is restored.
- Turn off heat producing appliances like ovens and stove tops prior to the outage.
- Reset clocks, thermostats and other programmed equipment after power is restored.
- Protect sensitive electronic equipment such as computers and televisions with surge suppressors. Unplug the equipment if it was in use when the power went out.
- Make sure you can manually (without power) open your automatic garage door or gate or park your vehicle outside.
- Make sure food stays cold by keeping your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. You can pack in extra ice to keep them cold for longer.
- Keep nonperishable food on hand that don’t require cooking and plenty of drinking water.
- Notify your alarm company if you have an alarm system, as the equipment can be affected by power outages.
- Inform PG&E if you have a generator and do not use it unless you are sure it was installed safely and correctly. An incorrectly installed generator can damage your property and endanger you or PG&E’s line workers who may be working on nearby power lines. You’ll find more information on the safe installation of generators at: pge.com/generator.