California Faces Historic Power Outage Due to Fire Danger

The PG&E power shutoffs are expected to impact roughly 800,000 customers across Northern and Central California

PG&E has started to proactively turn off power to roughly 800,000 customers in parts of several Bay Area counties and across much of Northern and Central California due to heightened fire danger. 

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The utility is turning off power in three phases. Around 12 a.m., PG&E started the first phase, cutting off power to roughly 513,000 customers across Northern California, including areas of Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties, amid windy and dry conditions, which create extreme fire danger.

The second phase, which originally was scheduled to begin around 12 p.m. Wednesday, has been delayed due to changes in the weather forecast. The second phase is expected to impact about 234,000 customers across Northern and Central California, including customers in the following Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara. A third round of shutoffs is being considered for about 42,000 customers across PG&E's southernmost service areas. Some counties report the Phase 2 will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Areas Affected by the Public Safety Power Shutoff

A planned outage from PG&E is expected to hit roughly 800,000 customers in parts of Northern, Central and coastal California.

Enter your location in the search bar below to see if you or your area will be affected.

Data: PG&E
Nina Lin/NBC

The shutoffs mark the most sweeping effort in state history to prevent wildfires caused by windblown power lines. The move comes after two years of catastrophic fires sent PG&E into bankruptcy and forced it to take more aggressive steps to prevent blazes.

Deliberate outages like these could become the new normal in an era in which scientists say climate change is leading to fiercer blazes and longer fire seasons.

In the Bay Area, some 278,000 customers across eight counties are expected to lose power during the shutoffs, which could potentially last for several days, according to PG&E.

San Francisco is the only county in the nine-county Bay Area where power will not be affected.

NBC Bay Area
A look at how many PG&E customers are estimated to be impacted during planned power shutoffs in the Bay Area. (Oct. 8, 2019)

The planned outages have prompted many schools and colleges in the Bay Area to cancel classes. See a full list of school closures here.

There were concerns that the power outages would force Caltrans to close the Caldecott and Tom Lantos (Devil's Slide) Tunnels, but both will remain open. Crews brought in temporary generators to power the Caldecott Tunnel and rerouted power to keep the Tom Lantos Tunnels open.

In anticipation of the shutoff, Sonoma County and Santa Clara County have declared a local emergency in response. 

The city of Morgan Hill will enforce a curfew Wednesday through Thursday in areas impacted by the shutoff. 

"This curfew is for the safety of the community to reduce the opportunity of crime," the city of Morgan Hill said in a Facebook post. 

There were concerns that the PG&E power shutoffs would force Caltrans to close the Caldecott and Tom Lantos (Devil’s Slide) Tunnels, but PG&E crews were able to provide generators to keep them open. Bob Redell reports.

The county-by-county breakdown below shows how many Bay Area customers are expected to be impacted by the shutoffs:

  • Alameda County: 32,680 customers in Oakland, Castro Valley, Fremont, Union City, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, Sunol, Pleasanton, Livermore.
  • Contra Costa County: 51,310 customers in San Ramon, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Pinole, Richmond, Kensington, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Berkeley, Canyon, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Rodeo, Concord, Albany, Antioch, Martinez.
  • Marin County: 9,855 customers in Bolinas, Fairfax, Mill Valley, Muir Beach, Olema, Sausalito, Stinson Beach.
  • Napa County: 32,124 customers in Napa, Saint Helena, Calistoga, Angwin, Pope Valley, Rutherford, Oakville, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Yountville, American Canyon.
  • San Mateo County: 14,766 customers in Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Woodside, Moss Beach, Montara, Portola Valley, Pescadero, La Honda, Redwood City, San Gregorio, Loma Mar, San Mateo, Menlo Park, Emerald Hills, Pacifica, Princeton, Davenport, Palo Alto.
  • Santa Clara County: 38,250 customers in San Jose, Morgan Hill, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Redwood Estates, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Coyote, Gilroy, Mount Hamilton, Palo Alto, Holy City.
  • Solano County: 32,863 customers in Fairfield, Vacaville, Suisun City, Vallejo, Dixon.
  • Sonoma County: 66,289 customers in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Glen Ellen, Penngrove, Geyserville, Kenwood, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Annapolis, Stewarts Point, Cotati, Cazadero, Guerneville, Larkfield, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Fulton, Bodega Bay.
Kris Sanchez explains what you need to do to prepare for a PG&E power shutoff and what you should do when the lights go out.

PG&E's move to proactively cut power was prompted by high winds and low humidity in the forecast. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the hills and valleys in both the North Bay and East Bay from 5 a.m. Wednesday until 5 p.m. Thursday. A Red Flag Warning has also been issued for the Santa Cruz Mountains between 5 p.m. Wednesday and 12 p.m. Thursday.

"This event has the potential to be the strongest offshore wind event in the area since the October 2017 North Bay fires," the weather service said.

Some of the most destructive blazes in California in recent years were started by PG&E power lines. Winds can knock down live wires and power poles or drive trees and other vegetation into contact with them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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