With dry conditions and wind gusts at high points throughout the Bay Area expected to hit up to 70 miles per hour, PG&E is shutting off power to thousands of customers in the region to prevent wildfires.
A red flag warning, indicating high fire risk in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, began 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, and remains in effect until 11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 26, according to the National Weather Service.
Along mountains and ridges throughout the Bay Area, winds were expected to rise to 25 to 40 miles per hour, with gusts at 60 to 70 mph, and in the valleys, they were expected to rise to 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph during the period of the warning.
These high winds come on top of very dry weather conditions, which makes it easy for fires to start and spread rapidly, the National Weather Service's Bay Area office reported.
In response to the widespread windy conditions, PG&E has already begun to shut off power to customers in high fire-risk areas throughout the state. PG&E, an investor-owned utility, has faced bankruptcy and legal problems since equipment problems in recent years started wildfires that have killed people in California.
In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, power shutoffs were expected to begin between 10 p.m. and midnight Oct. 25 and end around noon on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
In San Mateo County, 3,691 customers were expected to be impacted by the power shutoffs, 93 of which are considered medical baseline customers, meaning they depend on power for medical or independent living needs, according to PG&E.
While the bulk of the shutoffs were expected to affect residents in unincorporated areas of San Mateo County, they were also expected to affect 154 customers in Woodside, 21 customers in Portola Valley, 11 in La Honda, as well as some Half Moon Bay and Redwood City residents.
In Santa Clara County, 4,182 customers were expected to be impacted, 205 of which are considered medical baseline customers. While most were in unincorporated Santa Clara County, shutoffs were also expected to impact four Palo Alto customers, seven Los Altos Hills customers and one Los Altos customer. Los Gatos was the Santa Clara County city most impacted, with 324 customers expected to be affected.
In a 6 p.m. online press briefing presented by PG&E, the utility announced that about 361,000 customers statewide were expected to undergo power shutoffs. As of the briefing, about 225,000 customers had already lost power and 136,000 more were expected to lose power by the end of the day.
Safe weather was expected to return by midday on Monday, and PG&E expected to restore power in stages Monday night through Tuesday night, the utility announced.
Scott Strenfel, chief meteorologist at PG&E, explained that an ultra-dry air mass has pushed the marine layer offshore, and winds in the north bay hills had already begun to gust at more than 50 miles per hour with low relative humidity. The National Weather Service expected wind gusts to rise to potentially more than 70 miles per hour in some areas, he said.
It is anticipated to be the highest wind event of the season, he added.
"We're just entering the most dangerous phase of this event," he said. "Over the next four or five hours, we will see winds ramp up."
"We're doing everything we can to reduce the risk of wildfires," said PG&E Incident Commander Mark Quinlan, noting that the power shutoffs are a "last resort option."
He explained PG&E's process for what happens after a wind event. First, he said, the utility wait for the all-clear that the dangerous winds have passed. Then, inspections begin. These are done by teams of patrollers, followed by repair crews who travel by air, vehicle and foot. Damaged equipment is isolated and repaired, and then power is restored and customers are notified, he said. PG&E has 65 helicopters and a fixed-wing airplane to conduct inspections by air more efficiently than by ground, he said.
For people experiencing hardships due to the shutoffs, PG&E has set up community resource centers throughout the state, which follow COVID-19 safety precautions, according to Aaron Johnson, vice president of wildfire safety & public engagement at PG&E. People are advised to wear masks and may pick up grab-and-go resources or access snacks, restrooms, water, charging stations, Wi-Fi and more at community resource centers.
The nearest resource centers are:
• La Honda Fire Brigade, 8945 La Honda Rd, La Honda, San Mateo, 94062
• Pescadero High School, 360 Butano Cutoff, Pescadero, San Mateo, 94060
• Faith Lutheran Church, 16548 Ferris Ave., Los Gatos, Santa Clara, 95032
Access a map showing which areas are affected by outages and where the community resources are here.
For people who are elderly or disabled, there are additional resources people may be eligible to receive. Go to pge.com/disabilityandaging or call 211 for more information.
PG&E has started a portable battery program that provides no-cost backup portable batteries for lower-income households that are enrolled in the medical baseline program. Learn more about that program here.
Customers who are eligible for the portable backup battery program in San Mateo or Santa Clara counties may contact Central Coast Energy Services online at www.energyservices.org/psps, by email at [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-564-4012.