Power Outages Preventing Wildfires


Anda Chu

A street lamp in Sunol goes out during a power outage on October 10.

About 800,000 Californians lost power for a week due to fire-preventative measures by electric company PG&E. Last year, the tragic Camp Fire became the most destructive and deadly wildfire in the history of California. It was later found after investigations that the fire sparked due to trees being blown into power lines owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co as well as several other fires that year.

California Public Utilities Commission
A map showing the level of fire threat across California.

California’s electricity companies have now gotten more serious about fire prevention. In compliance with the California Public Utilities Commission, all of California’s electric utilities may shut off their customers’ power in high wildfire threat situations. On October 8th, the first large scale Public Safety Power Shut-off was announced. PG&E stated that it would turn off power for 800,000 of its consumers, mostly in Northern California, due to high winds and dry weather. Lights went out at about 11 pm on Wednesday, October 9 and around the same time on Friday 97% of the power was restored. More locally, Southern California Edison cut power to about 12,000 of its customers in Mono and Kern county.

Californians were outraged by the incident. The power outage caused many problems, including food spoiling, businesses like police stations and hospitals needing to use emergency generators, and lights going out on roads which caused mayhem. Customers of PG&E and SoCal Edison expressed their anger on social media. Even the Governor, Gavin Newsom, expressed his displeasure with PG&E. On October 10th, he stated it was “not a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades.” instead, a story of “neglect, a desire to advance not public safety, but profits.” On October 14, Newsom sent a letter demanding that the company compensate people affected by the outage by giving $100 to residential customers and $250 to small businesses.

Californians will need to prepare to experience these situations more often. Already, an even larger outage for about 1,000,000 customers of PG&E occurred on October 26. The fire season in California has gotten longer and more severe in recent years. A report by the California Environmental Protection Agency found that “long-term warming trends… including the rise in average temperatures and the number of extremely hot days and nights” are part of the reason for an increase in extreme weather events, including wildfires.

Because of this, electric companies have gotten more serious about fire prevention. People who live in areas that have a high-risk of fires could have multiple blackouts a year that go on for days or even a week. Californians need to be prepared for these events. Some items to have in order to prepare for an outage are a battery-powered flashlight and radio, portable phone chargers, non-perishable food, water, and a first aid kit available. Also, anyone who has medication that must be refrigerated or medical devices that require power must plan ahead. A more detailed guide is located to the right.