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PG&E still deciding whether to cut power to 63,000 customers amid growing fire risk

With high winds and the possibility of “extreme fire danger” looming Thursday morning in Northern California, Pacific Gas and Electric has yet to determine whether it will implement its second-ever planned power shutoff, which would affect tens of thousands of customers.

A wildfire broke out and quickly grew to 1,000 acres near the community of Pulga in Butte County, one of the eight counties subject to a possible shutoff, prompting evacuations in the area, Cal Fire’s Butte Unit reported on Twitter shortly after 8 a.m. Pulga is about 30 miles north of Oroville.

That fire is being referred to by Cal Fire as the Camp Fire. PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said the utility’s emergency operation center in San Francisco is aware of the Camp Fire situation and had yet to order a power shutoff as of 8:25 a.m.

A PG&E spokesperson said in an email update just before 6 a.m. that the utility company was “closely monitoring” weather conditions and might not be able to make a determination on the shutoff until late morning, as the most dangerous weather conditions were expected between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.

In a news release late Wednesday night, the utility company amended its earlier plan in the event of a planned shutoff Thursday: PG&E no longer plans to cut power to Sonoma County, sparing about 6,000 customers.

In all, eight counties — Butte, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra and Yuba — and a total of about 63,000 customers may be affected, according to the release.

PG&E cut power to about 59,000 customers in its first-ever planned power shutoff event, with most outages starting Oct. 14. Power was not fully restored to all affected regions until Oct. 17.

Because power can only be restored after a shutoff event after all affected power lines have been inspected, the restoration timeline can be hard to predict, PG&E officials have said.

The localized weather creating fire risk this week includes sustained winds between 20 and 30 mph and gusts up to 45 mph in areas with “critically dry vegetation,” according to Wednesday’s news release. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning on Tuesday for the Sacramento Valley and parts of the Bay Area lasting from Wednesday night through the week’s end.

PG&E last week submitted a report to the California Public Utilities Commission defending its decision to cut power while acknowledging it could improve in the areas of customer communication and restoration time.

PG&E started sending notifications of this week’s potential shutoffs via texts, phone calls and emails on Tuesday.

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