Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A wildfire burns on a hillside above Silverado Trail, in St. Helena, Calif., in a Sept. 27, 2020, file photo.

The Associated Press

Pacific Gas & Electric began turning off power to more than 50,000 Northern California customers Wednesday evening as dry, windy conditions renew the threat of fire in a season already marked by deadly, devastating blazes.

The utility announced that it had begun cutting power to up to 33,000 customers, with about another 20,000 to follow in a few hours.

The shut-offs will affect nearly two dozen counties, mostly in the Sierras and San Francisco Bay Area, and could last 48 hours.

Story continues below advertisement

Preemptive electricity cuts are a strategy aimed at preventing fires from being started by power lines that have been damaged or knocked down amid high winds. PG&E equipment sparked several massive blazes that destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 100 people since 2017.

“These are challenging times. Not only are we right in the peak of the wildfire season ... many of us are working from home, schooling from home as well. We recognize that hardships are introduced when we shut off power,” said Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s incident commander. “It’s our last resort option.”

The figure represents about 1% of PG&E’s 5.1 million customers. The nation’s largest utility said last month that it is using smarter and shorter power shut-offs after receiving widespread criticism from the public and regulators last year when it turned off electricity to 2 million people to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.

A second shut-off for around 700 customers was expected Thursday afternoon in far northern counties as winds were expected to arrive there.

Hundreds of firefighters from across the state were being deployed to Northern California.

Most of the huge fires that erupted over the past eight weeks are now fully or significantly contained and skies once stained orange by heavy smoke are blue again. Containment means that firefighters have lines holding in a fire, though it doesn’t mean a fire has stopped burning.

But the gains made by thousands of firefighters assigned to the blazes that have scorched more than 4.1 million acres this year could be hampered if new fires ignite, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

Story continues below advertisement

“If a new fire breaks out, that fire will be able to grow very quickly under these conditions,” Berlant said.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for extreme fire danger from 5 a.m. through Friday morning. With bone-dry humidity and wind possibly hitting 55 mph, Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest utility in the nation, warned people about the Wednesday evening cuts and deployed generators and other measures to keep electricity flowing in some areas, Quinlan said.

Denise Bethune lost her home of 12 years last month after a blaze razed her tiny foothills community of Berry Creek, about 260 kilometres northeast of San Francisco in rural Butte County. The night before, PG&E cut off power and she and her husband couldn’t use their well to get water and hose down their home.

Bethune, who has multiple sclerosis, said cutting power is a double-edged sword because it can help prevent fires from starting but it causes other issues.

“Whenever there is a power outage, my main concern is the heat because I can’t handle it without air conditioning due to my medical needs,” she said.

Since being displaced, Bethune, her husband and three dogs have been living in a trailer they parked on her son’s orchard near the city of Chico that has its own power source.

Story continues below advertisement

All power should be restored by late Friday night, the utility said.

The Glass Fire that ravaged the Northern California wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties was surrounded Wednesday after destroying more than 1,500 homes and other buildings.

Farther north, the Zogg Fire in Shasta and Tehama counties was fully contained. Four people died in that blaze.

More than 8,500 wildfires have burned more than 16,000 square kilometres in California since the start of the year, most since mid-August. Thirty-one people have died, and more than 9,200 buildings have been destroyed.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists have said climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

PG&E said last month that it is using smarter and shorter power shut-offs after receiving widespread criticism from the public and regulators last year when it turned off electricity to 2 million people to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.

Story continues below advertisement

PG&E’s aging equipment sparked the deadly 2018 fire that destroyed much of the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

The utility pleaded guilty in June to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter – one death was ruled a suicide – and paid $25.5-billion in settlements to cover the losses from that and other recent power line-sparked catastrophes.

Experts say nine out 10 wildfires are caused by people either accidentally or deliberately.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies