SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Critical fire weather conditions were expected to develop in the interior of Northern California, forecasters said Tuesday, and a utility announced possible power cuts to parts of eight counties to prevent ignitions if wires are downed or damaged.
Red flag warnings for fire danger were to take effect from 11 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday evening in much of the Sacramento Valley and in portions of adjacent Lake County due to gusty northerly winds and low humidity, the National Weather Service.
Pacific Gas & Electric said potential public safety power shutoffs starting at 3 a.m. Wednesday could affect up to 8,500 customers, mostly on the west side of the Sacramento Valley.
The shutoffs are intended to prevent fires from starting when power lines are downed by winds or struck by falling trees or windblown debris. Such fires have caused extensive destruction and deaths in California, but shutoffs have also drawn fierce criticism.
The issue has surfaced in Hawaii after the deadly fire that destroyed the Maui community of Lahaina. Maui County claims Hawaiian Electric Company negligently failed to cut power despite high winds and dry conditions. The utility acknowledges its lines started the fire but faults county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene.
California has so far avoided widespread wildfires this year following an extraordinarily wet winter and cool spring that melted the mountain snowpack slowly. Downpours from recent Tropical Storm Hilary further dampened much of the southern half of the state.
Major fires have been limited to the southeastern desert and the lightly populated far northwest near the Oregon border where lightning ignited many fires this month. The largest group, the Smith River Complex, has scorched more than 115 square miles (298 square kilometers).