Power cuts expected to affect more than two million people have begun in California as fires continue
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) initiated the precautionary blackout – expected to be the largest in state history – due to forecasts of extreme winds, which it said could damage facilities and cause new fires.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the outages were “unacceptable”.
Some 90, 000 people have been ordered to evacuate towns in northern California.
The new evacuation order encompasses a huge area of Sonoma County, where the Kincade Fire has already burned through 25, (acres) 10, 300 hectares) of land.
A state of emergency has been declared in Los Angeles and Sonoma counties, and thousands of firefighters are battling the blazes.
Why is the power being switched off?
PG&E said the power cuts would affect 940, 000 households and businesses across 36 counties in northern California – hitting an estimated two million people. The outages are expected to last until Monday.
“We have begun implementing the public safety power shutoff”, a PG&E official confirmed in a press conference on Saturday evening.
In a statement the previous day, PG&E warned customers that they could be affected by a mass blackout, citing forecasts of potential extreme weather.
The warning came as the company faced scrutiny over its possible role in the fires.
The Kincade Fire in northern California began seven minutes after a nearby power line was damaged, but PG&E has not yet confirmed if the power glitch started the blaze.
The company is already seeking bankruptcy protection as it faces lawsuits over last year Camp Fire, which killed 85 people. The deadliest wildfire in the state’s history was sparked by ageing equipment owned by PG&E. It spawned billions of dollars in liability claims against the company.
In a video posted to Twitter on Saturday, Governor Newsom said the power cuts were “infuriating everyone, and rightfully so”.
“We are going to do our best to get through these high wind events … and get these lights back on and do everything in our power to make sure PG & E’s never in a position where they’re doing this to us again, “he said.
What’s the forecast?
The Kincade Fire was about 10% contained as of Saturday evening local time.
The fire was burning in remote, steep terrain, making access difficult, the state fire department said.
Winds in the region were expected to pick up on Saturday night and gusts were forecast to hit (mph) 137 km / h). Forecasts predict the high winds will continue into Monday morning.
The National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning for areas around The Kincade Fire.
In suburban Los Angeles, the Tick Fire had charred 4, 615 acres and was 55% contained as of Saturday evening. All residents who were told to evacuate have returned home.
Firefighters have also been battling several other blazes in the state.
Mexico’s Baja California state is also tackling fires. Authorities on Friday said three people had died there and more than 150 homes had been destroyed.
‘Seconds to get out’
BBC correspondent Peter Bowes lives in the Santa Clarita area north of Los Angeles, where the Tick Fire has been raging.
“My partner was in the house and had just seconds to get out, to pick up the dog, throw the dog in the car – gently – just get out. It happened that quickly and all our neighbors did exactly the same thing, “he said on Friday.
He later tweeted photos of the devastation.