Forced Power Outages in California Help Prevent Wildfires

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Forced Power Outages in California Help Prevent Wildfires

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

On Oct. 14, the power in tens of thousands of California homes was intentionally shut off. Almost 100,000 homes were warned of the possibility of an intentional power outage, and around 60,000 homes actually lost their power. The widespread outage was caused to prevent the possibility of wildfires as the extreme winds and dry weather at the time created dangerous conditions for the start of one.

 

The action helped reduce the chance of a fire starting due to a broken power line. Wind speeds in Southern California reached around 45 miles per hour at the time, and Northern California faced wind speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Extreme winds like these can potentially snap power lines and power poles. If a damaged power line comes into contact with anything flammable or combustible, it will ignite. Fires that start during dry weather and windstorms grow rapidly as air constantly fans the flames. In order to prevent a situation like this from happening, power was shut off. With no electricity running through the power lines, fires would not be able to start even if a line breaks.

 

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the electric company that covers most of Northern California, was responsible for the intentional power shut off. The company has been blamed for their utilities causing large amounts of fire damage in the past and hopes to prevent that from happening in the future. PG&E senior vice president Pat Hogan stated, “We know how much our customers rely on electric service, and we have made the decision to turn off power as a last resort given the extreme fire danger conditions these communities are experiencing.” Although PG&E customers, including homes, businesses, and restaurants, went without power for a few hours, the outages may have saved them from even worse damage.

 

Southern California Edison (SCE), the electric company that covers much of Southern California including Arcadia, did not cause any intentional power shut offs. Any power outages that occurred around the city were caused by wind damage. SCE spokesperson Robert Villegas said, “We never want to turn the power off. It’s a measure of last resort, but we do have certain circuits we watch based on the weather forecasts.” The California Public Utilities Commission has allowed SCE to cause intentional blackouts to prevent wildfires during conditions of extreme fire risk. Power was restored to most homes in California on Oct. 15.

Photo courtesy of USATODAY.COM