Skip to content
business

Millions May Stay Dark in California Even After Fire Risk Fades

Millions May Stay Dark in California Even After Fire Risk Fades

A man delivers paper products to a cafe in downtown Sonoma, where power is turned off, on Oct. 9, 2019.
A man delivers paper products to a cafe in downtown Sonoma, where power is turned off, on Oct. 9, 2019.

Photographer: Noah Berger/AP Photo

A man delivers paper products to a cafe in downtown Sonoma, where power is turned off, on Oct. 9, 2019.

Photographer: Noah Berger/AP Photo

The high winds that have raised wildfire risks in California will likely abate by late Thursday, yet PG&E Corp.’s power shutoff meant to keep its equipment from sparking blazes could persist into next week.

PG&E will still need to send crews out to inspect every inch of its power lines spanning a large swath of Northern California to make sure they are safe to re-energize. And given that wind gusts are expected to get close to hurricane strength in some areas, there could be significant damage to the utility’s system caused by factors such as fallen tree branches.

It could take a while to make repairs, especially if damage is severe, according to PG&E Vice President Sumeet Singh. So customers could be out of power for five additional days even after high winds pass, he said at a media briefing Tuesday.

PG&E wants to avoid sparking a fire by sending electricity through fallen lines that could be touching a tree branch or surrounded by dry brush. Investigators found that one of its lines, when it was re-energized after being offline, sparked a wildfire that ravaged parts of northern California wine country two years ago. That and other devastating blazes have forced the utility giant into bankruptcy.

PG&E says it will have more than 5,000 workers on hand to conduct inspections and repairs after the winds die down. The utility will also deploy a fleet of 30 helicopters to check from the air.