Wildfire Season Is Here—and More Than 800,000 Californians Are About to Go Without Power Because of It

Fire burns around PG&E transmission towers, Monday, November 12, 2018, east of Pulga,Calif., near the first reports of the 2018 Camp Fire. Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

On midnight Wednesday morning, the Pacific Gas and Electric company will shut off power for roughly 800,000 customers in parts of 34 counties throughout California as a preventative strategy in the face of escalating wildfire threats in the state. Less than a month ago, the California energy company agreed to an $11 billion settlement in its most recent case litigating its role in recent wildfires.
Dry, windy weather expected throughout Northern California prompted the outages, which could last up to five days in some places and affect up to 1.8 million people. Extended periods of time without electricity pose a particular danger to vulnerable populations like children, seniors, low-income people, and those with health issues. To mitigate the negative impacts, PG&E announced it will open community resource centers in 26 counties Wednesday morning with bathrooms, water, air conditioning, and charging stations. But concerned customers struggled to access PG&E’s updates because of a flood of traffic to their website. 

We are currently experiencing high volume of traffic to our website & understand your frustration w/ the delay of accessing #PSPS related web pages. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience as our team is working as quickly as possible to restore access. pic.twitter.com/9qTsDxbiNE
— PG&E (@PGE4Me) October 8, 2019

Forecasts predict winds up to 70 miles per hour this week, in addition to warm temperatures and low humidity, which creates ideal conditions for wildfires. Last year, the Camp Fire devastated Paradise, a rural community north of Sacramento, killing 86 people, destroying 14,000 homes and causing $16.5 billion in losses. Victims and insurance companies sued PG&E for damages and wrongful death after its power lines allegedly sparked fires in 2017 and 2018. In January, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Climate change is a major contributing factor to the larger, longer-lasting fires. California had more fire damage last year than any other state. A recent study found the area burned annually by forest fires between 1972 and 2018 has increased by five-fold in California, much of which can be attributed to global warming.