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Utility under fire again as California faces blackouts and wildfires cause mass evacuations

29 October 2019

Close to 200,000 Northern California residents, many of them left in the dark by a third power shutdown in a month, have been ordered to leave their homes as high winds fuelled an explosion of wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shut off power to an estimated 2.3 million people across 38 counties from October 26 in an effort to avoid having its equipment spark fires amid dry conditions and powerful winds.

Early indications point to malfunctioning PG&E equipment sparking the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County which has caused the evacuation of 180,000 people.

Thousands of residents near the Brentwood neighbourhood of Los Angeles have also been told to evacuate because of a wildfire which started near the Getty Center arts complex.

On October 28, regulators announced a formal inquiry into whether energy utilities broke rules by pre-emptively cutting power to millions as wildfire risks soared.

Despite criticism that the precautionary blackouts were too widespread and too disruptive, PG&E said more would come later this week because further strong winds were expected.

The company said it had logged more than 20 preliminary reports of damage to its network from the most recent windstorm.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January after facing hundreds of lawsuits from victims of wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

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