Paradise and Oroville in the dark as PG&E shuts off power in some Sierra foothill areas

Amid worries of strong winds creating dangerous fire conditions overnight, PG&E began deliberately shutting off power Saturday to communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The utility said that at least 16,000 customers would be without electricity through the night.

At 9:15 p.m., the utility reported on its website that its second round of engineered outages began in Butte and Yuba counties, including towns hardest hit by the 2018 Camp Fire: fire-ravaged Paradise and Magalia, where a few thousand people have moved back home in recent months.

In a statement, PG&E said it was de-energizing lines in response to the wave of dry and windy weather conditions across Northern California, which prompted Red Flag Warnings from Redding to Los Banos through late Sunday. Other areas in the dark included Oroville and Loma Rica.

Power remained on in larger communities such as Chico, Marysville and Grass Valley, according to Bee journalists in those areas. A spokeswoman for the company said “changing weather conditions” are allowing officials to take a wait-and-see approach for homes in Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties.

Still, in announcing the shutoffs, the company said as many as 26,900 ratepayers could be affected before forecasts become more favorable. Areas where power could be cut included:

Butte County: Portions of Paradise, Oroville, Bangor, Forest Ranch, Chico, Berry Creek, Palermo

El Dorado County: Portions of Pilot Hill, Greenwood, Georgetown, Cool

Nevada County: Portions of Auburn, Grass Valley, Smartville, Rough and Ready, Penn Valley

Placer County: Portions of Lincoln

Yuba County: Portions of Browns Valley, Oregon House, Marysville, Wheatland, Rackerby

PG&E will be running community centers in Grass Valley and Oroville beginning at 8 a.m. to provide resources for customers, including restrooms, water bottles, electric device chargers and air conditioned seating for up to 100 customers each, the company said.

“Our most important responsibly is the safety of our customers and communities,” said Michael Lewis, a PG&E vice presient in charge of electric operations. “We are providing those impacted by the shutoff event with these support resources located in key locations. We ask that people look out for their neighbors, elderly and anyone with special needs who might need to use these community resource centers.”

The Grass Valley location will be at Sierra College, 250 Sierra College Drive and the Oroville location will be at Harrison Stadium, 1674 Third Ave.

Yuba County officials say they have secured a medical power supply center at 1830 B St., Marysville, as well as at 9185 Marysville Road in Oregon House.

Communities were preparing for the shutdown earlier Saturday night – traffic signals, for example, in several major intersections in Butte County had been turned to blinking-red four-way stops, according to officials on social media. And authorities urged residents in the affected areas to prepare their emergency supplies kits and checklists for the night ahead.

Karen Story, a cashier at Penn Valley Gas and Mini Mart, said her store was busier than usual for a Saturday night as people stocked up on gas – filling up their car tanks and buying jugs to power their generators.

She said most Penn Valley residents get their water from wells, which are powered by electricity. “It kind of defeats the purpose,” Story said. “If there’s a fire, we can’t even protect their homes because PG&E shut off the power.”

They’re able to power the wells with generators, though, she said, hence the need for jugs of gas.

Earlier in the day, officials had cut electricity to a smaller cluster of homes to the west of the Sacramento Valley – roughly 1,700 customers in parts of Yolo, Solano and Napa counties. The utility, driven into bankruptcy by two horrific wildfire seasons, engineered those blackouts about 6:30 a.m.

By Saturday afternoon, PG&E had concluded that round of shutoffs, according to company spokeswoman Karly Hernandez. By 9 p.m., officials said all power was restored in the North Bay, after PG&E crews “completed safety patrols, inspections and repairs of electric infrastructure in the impacted areas.”

Meanwhile, dangerous fire conditions persisted after 7 p.m. High winds were a factor in several small fires around the region Saturday – the biggest was the 1,700-acre Sand Fire in far western Yolo County.

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Jaimie Ding, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee with an interest in politics and international relations. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington.
Meghan Bobrowsky, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and school funding. She grew up in nearby Davis.