LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thousands of households across Northern California braced for power blackouts on Wednesday as dry weather threatened to touch off a new round of the wildfires that have ravaged the state.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E), which provides power to much of California, said it would cut power to about 53,000 customers across 24 counties as a preventative measure against potential fires because of severe weather conditions. The shutoffs were set to begin on Wednesday night.
The company has acknowledged that its equipment started the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.
The National Weather Service is predicting strong, dry “Diablo” winds in Northern California, and temperatures over 90 degrees F (32 C) in the southern part of the state.
A combination of strong, gusty winds, low humidity and accumulated buildup of dried-out shrubs, trees and grasses was creating ideal conditions for fires, said Eric Kurth, meteorologist in the Sacramento office of the National Weather Service.
The agency has issued a “red flag” warning for much of the state through Friday, warning residents that fires can spread and start easily under current conditions.
“Fires which typically would be easily handled with what they call the initial attack are a lot more difficult to handle” in these conditions, Kurth said. “They grow much more quickly.”
More than 4.1 million acres (1.7 million hectares) have burned over the course of the year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), shattering a record set in 2018.
At least 31 people have died in the more than 8,500 fires that have burned in the state in 2020.
Fire officials and law enforcement have made some progress in determining the causes of the massive California blazes.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a Redding, California, man with setting four smaller fires in Shasta County in June and July.
A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that 84% of U.S. wildfires were caused by human activity, both accidental and intentional.
(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)