Live updates: California winds return, PG&E will credit customers, progress on Kincade Fire

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Hundreds of thousands of Northern Californians lost power Tuesday, as PG&E instituted its third planned blackout in seven days, brought on by forecasts of strong winds fueling already-dangerous wildfire conditions.

Cal Fire crews, meanwhile, made good progress battling the Kincade Fire burning in Sonoma County amid calmer wind conditions, but more than 100,000 residents remain evacuated as of Tuesday morning. Fire personnel remain on high alert as the wildfire reaches its seventh day, with gusty winds in Tuesday’s forecast presenting the danger of another flareup.

At mid-day, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said it restored power to nearly 574,000 homes and businesses that were blacked out last Saturday, representing 59 percent of the 970,000 customers who lost power. The latest shutoff is expected to hit a total of 597,000 customers in parts of 29 counties.

Map of Kincade Fire in Sonoma County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Newsom says PG&E will offer ‘credits’ for blackouts

Updated at 5:38 p.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at the site of the Getty Fire in Los Angeles, said PG&E has told him it will compensate customers for the precautionary blackouts.

Previously the company had shrugged off Newsom’s demands that PG&E offer some form of compensation.

“They will begin the process of crediting customers for this disruption,” he said. He said PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told his staff earlier Tuesday that “some credits” will be made.

Trying to make a cell phone call? Good luck

Updated at 3:09 p.m.

PG&E Corp.’s precautionary blackouts have knocked scores of Northern California cell towers out of commission, hobbling communications as residents cope with the Kincade Fire and other problems.

A report Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission said 463 cell towers were offline across the state because of power shutoffs, or 1.8 percent of the total. The day before, 874 towers were knocked out.

The report said 95 of Sonoma’s cell towers were out, or 22.4 percent. Marin County lost 95 towers as well, or 35.4 percent. Nine towers were without power in Yolo County, 17 in El Dorado, 22 in Placer and 14 in Calaveras.

The cell tower problems were first reported by the San Jose Mercury News.

Kincade Fire evacuation zone shrinks

Updated at 2:16 p.m.

Cal Fire said another area of Sonoma County has been cleared to allow evacuees to return home.

The area is part of the county’s evacuation zone 4A, in the Dry Creek region at the northern end of the county.

“The area is still at risk from the Kincade Fire, and much of this area does not have power or natural gas due to the power shutoff,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a Nixle alert. “Remember, if you hear the hi-lo sirens, it’s time to evacuate.”

At one point around 190,000 county residents were ordered to evacuate. The Sheriff’s Office already rescinded those orders for the western part of the county.

PG&E: 500k blacked out, including 400k who didn’t get restored

Updated 1:52 p.m.

PG&E Corp. said its latest “public safety power shutoff” had affected 500,000 homes and businesses by mid-day, and would affect more customers as the day goes on.

The figure included about 400,000 customers who never got their power back from the previous safety blackout, which began Saturday night, said utility spokeswoman Brandi Merlo.

Pacific Gas and Electric said it expects to have a total of 597,000 customers blacked out in total by late Tuesday night as it attempts to shield its electrical equipment from high winds and wildfire risk. The outages began early in the day in the north Sacramento Valley and were scheduled to roll south through PG&E’s territory, culminating with five Bay Area counties: Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa.

The shutdown is expected to last until mid-day Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said the windstorm will produce gusts of 50 mph or more.

Lake County sheriff declares emergency

Updated 1 p.m.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin in a statement declared a state of emergency explicitly in response to “repeated, extended and continuing Public Safety Power Shutoffs.”

The emergency declaration comes following the blackouts initiated by PG&E on Tuesday, which Martin notes is the fourth such blackout implemented in the area in the month of October.

Martin, also the county’s director of emergency services, issued a proclamation finding that “the compounding effects of the simultaneously occurring fires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs have exacerbated the negative effects to our county to include, forcing residents to leave their homes, causing spoilage of food, imposing immeasurable financial impacts to local businesses, the inability of residents to heat their homes as nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s which can be especially harmful to children and elderly populations, and leaving people who rely on life-saving medical equipment without power.”

The proclamation says Lake County is in “extreme peril” from the combination of the nearby Kincade Fire, the Burris Fire burning in Mendocino County and planned power shutoffs affecting the entire region. The declaration does not explicitly mention PG&E.

‘Howling’ Santa Ana winds expected

Updated noon

The National Weather Service’s Western Region office posted a map by the storm prediction center showing that “extremely critical” fire weather is predicted for a wide swath of Southern California, including the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, on Wednesday.

Gusts could reach 80 mph in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties, according to to the weather service.

“We expect the Santa Anas to be howling by sunrise tomorrow,” NWS Western Region tweeted late Tuesday morning.

Injured firefighter ‘stable’ at Sacramento hospital

Updated 9 a.m.

Cal Fire division chief Jonathan Cox said the firefighter who was flown to a Sacramento burn center with serious injuries sustained while fighting the Kincade Fire over the weekend is in “stable condition.”

“He’s in stable condition and is surrounded by family at the hospital currently,” Cox said.

The firefighter has not been identified. Another firefighter sustained minor injuries fighting the fire over the weekend and was treated at a local hospital, according to Cal Fire.

Those two incidents remain the only first responder injuries reported in connection with the Kincade Fire. More than 4,500 Cal Fire personnel are assigned to the fire as of Tuesday morning.

No fatalities and no civilian injuries have been reported as of early Tuesday.

John Cena announces $500,000 donation

Paramount Pictures said Monday on social media that it plans to donate a total of $500,000 to the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation and the California Fire Foundation in response to a video request posted by actor and pro wrestler John Cena.

Cena announced the donation on behalf of the cast and crew of “Playing With Fire,” his latest film.

“Two incredible choices. @LAFDFoundation and @CAFireFound ... on behalf of Paramount and the cast of #PlayingWithFireMovie, a total of $500K is coming your way. Thank you for what you do. Help is on the way!!!” Cena tweeted.

“Playing With Fire” premieres in November and stars Cena as a firefighter.

Repopulation not expected today in Sonoma, sheriff says

Updated 9 a.m.

Cal Fire and law enforcement officials said during a 9 a.m. news conference that the next 12 hours will be focused on structure defense and containing the Kincade Fire, not repopulation for evacuated residents.

“Today’s probably not going to be a good day to talk about repopulation as far as good news,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said during the Tuesday morning briefing. “The danger has not passed yet.”

Essick said everyone in the Sonoma County area should remain vigilant.

PG&E shutoffs continue

Updated 9 a.m.

PG&E confirmed in a 9 a.m. update that it has continued turning off power Tuesday morning in phases of its planned blackout, which include parts of Sonoma, Butte, Shasta, Napa, Lake, Solano, Mendocino, Yolo and other counties.

An estimated 90,000 customers will be blacked out in Sonoma County, where the Kincade Fire continues to burn, and about 120,000 Marin County customers will lose power later Tuesday night, according to PG&E.

PG&E also says about 16,000 additional customers who were affected by the weekend’s outage have had power restored between Monday evening and 9 a.m. Tuesday. Just under 400,000 customers still remain powerless from the utility’s largest-ever planned shutoff.

Kincade Fire grows slightly, 124 structures destroyed

Updated 7:30 a.m.

The Kincade Fire grew by just over 1,000 acres and only one additional structure was added to the destruction tally between Cal Fire’s Monday evening and Tuesday morning updates.

The wildfire now stands at 75,415 acres, or 118 square miles, and remains at 15 percent containment, Cal Fire said in a 7 a.m. incident report. The blaze has destroyed 124 structures and is threatening 90,000 more, with 80,000 homes among those at risk.

Cal Fire’s latest situation report says favorable weather “will enhance firefighting efforts in the morning,” but narrow roads and steep terrain continue to make fire access difficult. Weather forecasts show northeast gusts increasing by the evening, making Tuesday morning and early afternoon critical periods for containment efforts.

Mandatory evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings Monday afternoon in western Sonoma County, but new evacuation warnings were also introduced for Calistoga and parts of Napa and Lake counties, according to Cal Fire. For most of the weekend, about 180,000 residents were under evacuation orders, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said.

PG&E to shut off power in 9 phases

Updated 7:30 a.m.

As of Monday night, PG&E said it planned to start cutting power to eight portions of Northern California, plus Kern County, over the course of nine “phases” spanning from the early morning to late night.

PG&E’s live outage map shows that Phase 1, affecting 40,000 customers mainly in Butte and Shasta counties, began shortly after 4 a.m.

Three other phases were planned to begin Tuesday morning, one is set for the mid-afternoon and four more are anticipated to begin Tuesday night.

(The phases for the blackouts, as numbered by PG&E, are not in chronological order by their start times, which are tentative estimates):

  • 5 a.m., Phase 1: Butte, Plumas, Tehama, Trinity and Shasta counties
  • 7 a.m., Phases 4 and 5: southern Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Solano and Yolo counties
  • 9 a.m., Phase 2: El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sierra and Yuba counties
  • 4 p.m., Phase 3: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties
  • 9 p.m., Phases 6 and 9: northern Humboldt, Siskiyou and Kern counties
  • 11 p.m., Phases 7 and 8: Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties

Gusty winds in forecast, starting soon

Updated 7:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service predicts gusts as high as 60 mph will return to parts of the Sacramento Valley in yet another treacherous “downslope” wind event, leading the service to issue another red flag warning that will be in place from 8 a.m. Tuesday through 4 p.m. Wednesday for much of Northern California.

The winds aren’t expected to be as strong as those recorded over the weekend, when wind speeds of more than 100 mph were reported in multiple locations by PG&E and NWS meteorologists. But the wind storm will be comparable in strength to the one from the middle of last week that coincided with the rapid start to the Kincade Fire, NWS forecaster Michelle Mead told The Sacramento Bee on Monday.

Good progress made on Getty Fire

Updated 7:30 a.m.

About 10,000 structures remain threatened by a fire that ignited early Monday morning near the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but the Los Angeles Fire Department reported Monday evening that good progress was made in slowing the spread of the fire.

The fire was reported at 618 acres and 5 percent containment as of 8 p.m. Monday. Eight homes have been destroyed and six were damaged Monday, fire officials say.

Crews are working to defend structures and increase containment ahead of strong Santa Ana winds that are forecast to reach the area around 11 p.m. Tuesday.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.
Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.