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Update: PG&E announces start of public safety power shutoff amid fire risk; more than 5,000 Napa County customers may be affected
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Update: PG&E announces start of public safety power shutoff amid fire risk; more than 5,000 Napa County customers may be affected

Updated at 10:03 p.m. — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has begun the process of cutting power to as many as 5,028 customers in Napa County and about 172,000 customers across 22 counties from Monday night into Wednesday, the utility announced. The public safety power shutdown coincides with a weather warning for higher winds and wildfire-prone conditions following temperatures above 100 degrees across much of California during the Labor Day weekend.

In a news release, PG&E said it began the process of de-energizing power lines at 9 p.m. Monday, after starting to inform potentially affected customers late Saturday. The company estimated it would restore service to affected communities before 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Potentially impacted areas include Calistoga, Deer Park, Angwin, Aetna Springs, Berryessa Estates, the eastern slopes above St. Helena, and parts of Pope Valley, the county Office of Emergency Services announced in a Nixle alert shortly before 4 p.m.

The cities of Napa and American Canyon and the town of Yountville are not expected to be affected.

PG&E began announcing the possibility of the power shutoff during the holiday weekend as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for higher-elevation parts of Napa County and the Bay Area, with triple-digit temperatures and low humidity. Customer notifications via text message, email and automated voice call began going out on Saturday, the utility said earlier.

The red flag warning is in effect from 10 p.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Wednesday in parts of the county above the 1,000-foot elevation, and indicates that current or imminent weather conditions may contribute to extreme fire behavior and that any flames may spread rapidly.

While the area covered by the red-flag warning includes some 1.5 million PG&E customers, the utility said it is limiting the number affected by the PSPS to 12% of that total.

"While PSPS is an important wildfire safety tool, we understand the burden PSPS places on our customers especially for those with medical needs and customers shelter at home in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)," the utility said in its Monday night announcement. "We are working to reduce the number of customers affected and the length of time they are without power."

After the higher winds subside, PG&E will inspect de-energized power lines to ensure they were not damaged before restoring service, and then reconnect customers in stages, according to the company, which said its goal is to restore power to nearly all customers within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed.

The Weather Channel website said the temperature in Napa was 106 degrees early Monday evening, following a 110-degree Sunday that tied the city’s all-time record for the month of September, set in 1904. In addition, winds were expected to accelerate Monday night and into Tuesday, reaching 13-18 mph from the north with gusts up to 24 mph, according to the weather service website.

PG&E customers may look up their addresses online to determine whether a location is being monitored for a potential public safety shutoff at pge.com/pspsupdates.

PG&E will open community resource centers in every county where a power shutoff occurs, according to Napa County. These temporary centers will be open to customers when power is out at their homes, and will provide restrooms accessible to disabled visitors; hand-washing stations; medical-equipment charging; Wi-Fi internet access; bottled water; and non-perishable snacks. Impacted Napa residents can find information about resource centers at pge.com/pspsupdates.

Monday night, the Napa County Office of Emergency Services announced three community resource centers would open locally:

- Angwin: Pacific Union College, 1 Angwin Ave.

- Calistoga: Highlands Christian Fellowship, 970 Petrified Forest Road

- St. Helena: St. Helena Catholic School, 1255 Oak Ave.

Separately, the city of Napa announced the reopening of an air-conditioned cooling center at its Senior Activity Center at 1500 Jefferson St. on Monday. The cooling center first opened Sunday afternoon, the city said in a news release.

In addition to the PG&E power shutoff website, Napa County residents may visit ReadyNapaCounty.org to learn about preparations for wildfires, heat waves, power outages and more.

Exceptionally hot weather was driving the state’s highest power use of the year, and transmission losses due to various wildfires have cut into supplies. Eric Schmitt of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the state’s power grid, said up to 3 million customers faced power outages Sunday if residents didn’t curtail their electricity usage.

About 7 p.m., CAISO declared an emergency and said power outages were imminent because a transmission line carrying power from Oregon to California and another in-state power plant stopped working unexpectedly. The cause of the outages was not immediately known, the agency said.

But about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, the agency issued a tweet calling off the emergency “thanks to conservation of Californians!” It said no power outages were ordered by operators of the grid.

A statewide Flex Alert announced by CAISO was is in effect on Labor Day from 3 to 9 p.m., calling on Californians to conserve energy during the late afternoon and early evening when demand is typically highest.

Consumers are urged to set air conditioning thermostats no higher than 78 degrees, health permitting; avoid using major appliances; turn off unneeded lights; unplug unused devices; close window blinds and drapes; use fans where possible; and limit the time that refrigerator doors are open.

The weather service’s Sacramento station calculated that more than 99 percent of California was placed under heat warnings or advisories on Sunday. Downtown San Francisco set a record for the day at 100 degrees, 5 degrees above the previous mark.

Downtown Los Angeles reached 111, and a record-shattering high of 121 was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley – the hottest day on record anywhere in Los Angeles County, according to the weather service. The mark rivaled the high in California’s Death Valley, typically the hottest place in the U.S.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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