Hundreds of thousands lose power as Northern California braces for more wildfires

Hundreds of thousands of people lost power in dozens of California counties Sunday as weather forecasters predicted the most powerful winds of the year and the potential for more raging wildfires, officials said.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which supplies power to millions across Northern and Central California, had shut off electricity to 225,000 customers by Sunday night, said Mark Quinlan, the utility’s incident commander. Another 136,000 were expected to lose power by midnight, he said.

The outages are expected to hit 36 counties, he said.

The company, which pleaded guilty earlier this year for causing the state’s deadliest wildfire, has taken to shutting off its electrical grid to prevent its equipment from sparking new fires.

“Unfortunately, this event is going to transpire as predicted,” the company’s meteorologist, Scott Strenfel, told reporters Sunday night.

Earlier, forecasters with the National Weather Service said the strongest winds of the year were anticipated in some areas of the state through Monday. With low humidity and tinder-dry vegetation, the agency placed much of Northern California under its highest-risk wildfire alert, a red flag warning.

Strenfel said winds could top 70 mph in some areas.

“This is the fire weather forecast I was hoping wouldn't come to pass, given all that has already transpired in 2020,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California-Los Angeles.

Thousands of blazes have scorched more than 4 million acres in California this year, a record, including the largest wildfire in state history, which has topped 1 million acres and is spread across six counties. Thirty-one people have died and more than 9,000 buildings have been destroyed.

Forecasters were also predicting powerful winds and low humidity in Southern California. One of the region’s utilities, Southern California Edison, said it was considering power shutoffs for 71,000 customers beginning Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Officials and experts have blamed the state’s record-setting wildfire season on climate change and decades of forest management practices that allowed a buildup of dead and dried-out vegetation in the state’s vast wildlands.

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