Stung by withering criticism from California’s governor and other officials, PG&E Corp. said early Friday it had restored power to 426,000 customers following a deliberate blackout that began Wednesday.
The beleaguered utility said 312,000 customers remained without power.
The utility reported as of Friday morning it has restored power to almost all of the 6,300 Yolo County customers whose power was cut off at midnight Wednesday. It also has returned power to 49 percent of the 51,000 blacked-out El Dorado County customers and 60 percent of the 52,000 blacked-out Placer County customers.
Service restoration is lagging in Butte County, where 27,000 residents had their power cut. Only 29 percent of residents there, at the scene of last year’s devastating Camp Fire, have seen service restored as of Friday morning.
It’s also lagging in Lake County, which was hit last year by the massive Mendocino Complex fire. There, only 3 percent of 37,000 customers have their power back.
Service in Humboldt County, where 67,000 were without power, has been completely restored, the utility said.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. didn’t offer a timetable on when the remaining customers would get the lights back on, but said more than 6,300 workers and 44 helicopters would inspect the utility’s service territory for damage from the gusting winds that prompted the outages.
“Customers will be restored once safety patrol, inspections and necessary repairs are complete,” the company said.
PG&E added that it had found 11 cases of damage to its equipment from the high winds, and “the company is working to address those repairs.”
The utility said it has reopened its daytime community resource centers Friday morning in counties where electricity is still out, but will be shutting them down as power is restored.
After several days of high winds across much of the north state, the National Weather Service on Friday morning announced the weather will have calmed enough as of 10 a.m. to end what had been an extended three-day “red flag” alert. Weather officials said the north state may see light rains next week.
“Fire weather concerns will wrap up across northern California later this morning,” forecasters said in a Friday morning statement. “Quiet weather will prevail until late next week, when a weather system could bring a slight chance for some showers over Northern California. Confidence is low on timing and impacts. “
PG&E, driven into bankruptcy by billions of dollars in liabilities from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, launched the massive blackout early Wednesday as the National Weather Service issued “red flag” alerts for huge stretches of the company’s 70,000 square miles of service area.
The blackout, believed to be the largest planned outage by a utility anywhere, intensified the criticism of a company that already is notoriously unpopular. Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted PG&E for decades of neglect that left its grid too fragile to withstand high winds. “This is not a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades,” he told reporters Thursday evening at a press conference at the state Office of Emergency Services’ command center near Mather Airport.
Moments later, at a press conference at company headquarters in San Francisco, Chief Executive Bill Johnson defended the blackout strategy but apologized to customers for the lights going out. He also apologized for shoddy communications, including website crashes and other problems.
“This is not how we want to serve you; this is not how we want to run our business,” he said.
The blackout and fire fears remain a major topic from the foothills to the Bay area, with residents and legislators lamenting what one said is a “Third World” state of affairs in California.
In Pollock Pines Thursday evening, residents gathered to lament a prescribed burn that had gotten out of control.
In the days before the red flag warning, the U.S. Forest Service had set brush and trees on fire as part of a long planned fire-fuels reduction project in a rugged stretch of the Eldorado National Forest southeast of Kyburz.
When the winds kicked up, the flames started to spread to the point that the Forest Service was forced to declare the Caples Fire an official wildfire Thursday afternoon. By Friday morning, it had grown to 2,143 acres.
Though it was far from their homes, about 50 residents gathered inside a Pollock Pines community center whose lights were kept on by a roaring generator as Forest Service officials gave an update on the fire’s progress.
Some were furious that the Forest Service set the woods on fire at all this time of year.
”How is it responsible to us that have (health) problems when you let fires get out of control?” asked a woman wearing a particle mask over her face. She declined to give her name. “You guys burn when there’s not even a storm in sight.”
Laurence Crabtree, Eldorado’s forest supervisor, explained that the fire was still burning within the fuel’s reduction project’s boundaries, but he acknowledged that the fire had gotten a little out of hand.
”You have a very narrow burn window between it’s too dry and when it’s windy and it’s snow covered,” Crabtree said. “We believed we hit that window, and today we’re saying it doesn’t look like we did. We’re going to put a line around this fire and stop it.”