Tens of thousands of Northern Californians are likely to lose power Tuesday as gusty winds return to the region, potentially sparking more wildfires in a state where the second-largest blaze on record is burning across more than a half-million acres.
California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, warned about 39,000 customers across 16 counties Sunday that they could lose power when operators shut down equipment to prevent wildfires.
The utility said on its website Monday that the outages were “likely.”
Most of the shutoffs will occur in two counties, one of them Butte, one of four counties where the massive Dixie Fire has scorched nearly 570,000 acres, the utility said.
A little over a quarter of the blaze, which ignited more than a month ago and destroyed the historic Sierra Nevada town of Greenville this month, was surrounded by containment lines Monday afternoon, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Powerful offshore winds are expected to pick up Tuesday night, a potentially devastating event as most of California is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. The utility said the shutoffs could last as long as two days for some customers.
The utility began using the proactive measure during a wave of devastating wildfires in recent years, including the deadliest in state history, the Camp Fire of 2018. The company pleaded guilty to unlawfully starting the fire, which left at least 84 people dead, after investigators blamed its transmission lines.
PG&E, which declared bankruptcy in the fire’s aftermath, also pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News based in California.