Uncertainty loomed in the Bay Area on Monday morning as many households and businesses remained without power, the result of a shutoff by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) intended to curb the possibility of fires resulting from power lines being knocked down due to record-high winds.
Over the weekend, Bay Area winds approached 100 mph, the result of naturally aggressive weather systems that also got a boost from fires burning in the region.
The most troubling of these is the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which has forced the evacuation of some 200,000 residents. The fire has been contained up to 10% in the past 24 hours, yet it has subsequently grown, putting containment figures back down at 5%.
It is expected to burn into early November.
Milpitas residents were alarmed on Sunday as many residences and businesses lost power, and images of residential-area smoke and fire circulated on social media, with Emergency Alert systems advising people to avoid using several major local streets. The fire that spurred the photos and panic was on Marylinn Drive, east of the 880. Four homes were impacted by the blaze, one of which was destroyed completely. Witnesses say the event began with sparks shooting out of power lines — the exact sort of fire origin PG&E is seeking to prevent through its shutdown practices.
The power company has been widely condemned for not having ample underground wiring across the state, with many citing the practice of trading blackouts for fires as trading one crisis for another — while not even eliminating fires in the end. Governor Gavin Newsom has been a vocal critic of PG&E, issuing forceful condemnations of their failure to upgrade their wiring despite their full awareness of the possible deadly outcomes.
On Monday morning, PG&E indeed began turning many customers’ power back on, but we’re not out of the woods yet: Anticipated powerful winds starting on Tuesday and going into Wednesday have PG&E already planning their next broad shutoff.
These new winds are expected to reach 60 mph.
Those whose power does not return on Monday might continue to find themselves going without it into Tuesday and Wednesday, and beyond. For even when the winds die down and PG&E ground crews get the “all clear” to restore people’s power, they still have to manually inspect power lines for damage before hitting the on switch.
As a result, many residents will go without power for 5 to 7 days.
In recent days, about 1 million PG&E customers have experienced outages, the vast majority of which were planned, but about 100,000 of which came from the wind itself.
At press time, Milpitas is experiencing 9 power outages affecting 1,406 customers.