SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Concerned about downed power lines sparking wildfires, a major California utility for the first time cut power to tens of thousands of customers amid high winds — and other power providers were considering similar action.
Pacific Gas & Electric began cutting power Sunday night in Northern California after the National Weather Service warned of extreme fire danger across the state because of high winds, low humidity and dry vegetation.
PG&E previously announced its plan to shut off power preemptively after authorities blamed its power lines for sparking some of California's most destructive wildfires.
The utility expects to pay billions of dollars in wildfire damages and has sought ways to limit its liability in the courts and the state Legislature.
PG&E said about 87,000 customers had their power halted and more could be left in the dark depending on the weather. Some 60,000 customers remained without power Monday afternoon. Schools in those affected areas canceled classes.
PG&E said it expected to restore power Monday night to most customers — though some residents won't get electricity back until Tuesday.
"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," PG&E spokesman Pat Hogan said.
PG&E said it began notifying affected customers on Saturday about possible outages. However, many said Monday they had received little or no notice.
Stewart Munnerlyn was scrambling to find generators to save $8,000 worth of ice cream in at his creamery shop in Pine Grove, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) east of Sacramento. Munnerlyn said he is in Virginia visiting a sick relative and received three text messages Sunday night from PG&E saying it might cut power, but he didn't know it actually happened until a friend called him.
"They knew what they were going to do obviously," Munnerlyn said. "We weren't given enough notice to properly prepare."
The weather service predicted winds gusting to 55 mph (89 kph) in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento. High winds were also expected in the state's wine country north of San Francisco.
Utilities in Southern California also said they were considering shutting off power to an undetermined number of customers. Strong wind gusts swept across the region with the arrival of the first fall Santa Ana winds — hot, sustained gusts that blow from the desert to the ocean.
A motorist in the Orange County city of Tustin was killed when a eucalyptus tree fell on her car in an apartment complex. The victim was 34. No further details were released.
Southern California Edison spokesman David Song said about 32,000 of its 5 million customers were experiencing power outages, but no shutdowns had been ordered by the utility. Song said Edison was investigating the cause of those outages.