California power outages increase as strong winds raise fire risk

More than 200,000 customer accounts could lose service in the regions around Los Angeles and San Diego, according to the local utilities.

By  and Bloomberg

The largest utility in Southern California cut power for more customers in the mountains near Los Angeles as strong winds raised the risk of wildfire, marking the second year in a row that parts of the region will spend Thanksgiving in the dark.

Edison International’s Southern California utility halted electricity to 63,835 homes and businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties as of 10:36 a.m. local time to avoid having live wires spark blazes as a wind storm bore down on the drought-stricken region. More than 200,000 customer accounts could lose service in the regions around Los Angeles and San Diego, according to the local utilities.

Power companies in California have taken to switching off electric lines in advance of strong winds after a series of deadly wildfires were sparked by their equipment. It’s just one of the ways in which years of drought are reshaping life in the Golden State, home to about 40 million people. Last year, Southern California Edison cut electricity to more than 20,600 homes and businesses on Thanksgiving Day, when many people were sheltering at home due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Strong, dry winds across Southern California are expected to wind down by Thanksgiving night, though an elevated risk of dangerous fire conditions will persist into Friday, the National Weather Service said. A Red Flag Warning — the highest alert — has been posted from Santa Barbara to the border with Mexico through Friday. The U.S. Storm Prediction Center said critical fire-weather conditions in portions of Southern California will be ongoing Thursday morning and are expected to persist throughout the day, with strong winds into the afternoon.

“You can do your part by staying informed and being ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, especially if you live in canyon, mountain or foothill communities,” Kevin McGowan, director of Los Angeles County’s Office of Emergency Management, said in a Wednesday press release.

Edison warned that more than 156,000 homes and businesses could lose electricity, while Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric shut power to more than 5,300 customers in a dozen communities and warned of possible shutoffs potentially affecting almost 48,000 homes and businesses. Service will be restored after the companies survey their power lines for wind damage.

Across California, 8,367 fires have charred nearly 3.1 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of state and federal land this year, burning more than 3,600 buildings and killing three people, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire risk is made worse because all of the state is currently gripped by drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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