Forecasters say wind gusts early Thursday on some San Francisco Bay Area hills reached speeds of 70 miles per hour (110 kph).
Gusts topping freeway speed raked the San Francisco Bay Area early Thursday after California's biggest utility shut off electricity to almost 2 million people for fear high winds in the forecast could bring down power lines and spark deadly wildfires.
The utility warned that some customers may be affected by the power shutoffs even though they're nowhere near areas experiencing extreme weather conditions because the lines that bring them electricity rely on "power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions".
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has started a planned power shutoff on an unprecedented scale in Northern California to reduce the risk of wildfires amid dry and windy weather, the San Francisco-based utility said on Wednesday.
Some of the most affected counties in the outage include El Dorado, (51, 396 customers), Humboldt (62, 393), Nevada, (43,217) and Sonoma (66, 289).
"The areas that we're most concerned about is in the Santa Clarita Valley area, Moorpark, Simi Valley...parts of the Santa Monica Mountains that haven't burned in recent years", a fire official explained. State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo told the L.A. Times that he believed the utility company was being unreasonable with the number of areas it planned to cut. PG&E officials said they will not turn the power back on until all its equipment is inspected and repaired after the storm has passed.
But some 600,000 customers are still without electricity.
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Gusty winds coupled with dry conditions mean conditions will be favorable for wildfires. "Public safety power shut off is one of the many steps that we're taking".
Michael Lewis, senior vice president for PG&E's electric operations, apologized in advance for the chaos the sweeping outages were likely to cause. "Denise Boldway, owner of Blossoms Florist in Eureka, said the outage launched the city into pandemonium".
On Tuesday, Cal Fire issued a fire warning for much of California.
Faced with customer anger, PG&E put up barricades around its San Francisco headquarters. A customer threw eggs at a PG&E office in Oroville. It was the second consecutive public safety power shutoff in that week, after the company had previously left about 24,000 customers across three northern California counties in the dark.
It proposed replacing bare overhead high-voltage wires with insulation to help prevent power lines sparking fires, replacing wood poles with less flammable material and possibly moving some overhead power lines underground, which PG&E has estimated would cost $3 million per mile. Of six previous such power cuts, the largest occurred a year ago and affected 60,000 customers.
"This is what PG&E thinks is in the best interest of their customers and ultimately for this region and the state", the governor said, the Los Angeles Times reported. PG&E's website, where clients should be able to get the latest information from the utility, was overloaded and most were unable to access it as the clock ticked toward Wednesday morning.