Up to 2 million people may have their power cut Saturday as fires rage in several parts of California.
Blackouts could hit 850,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for 48 hours or longer throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, wine country and Sierra foothills, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, will decide around noon Eastern Time.
It would be the third time power is shut off as record-strong winds, with some gusts up to hurricane-strength 85 mph, threaten to knock down power lines and spark wildfires.
The warning came as major fires burned homes and forced evacuations across California.
Six homes burned Thursday and up to 50,000 residents were told to flee in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles, though some were allowed home Friday night as the Santa Ana winds started to die down.
“Diablo winds” fanned the flames of the Kincade Fire, which burned 49 buildings, including 21 homes in the Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco. Another 600 homes were threatened, forcing a late-night evacuation order in Sonoma and neighboring Lake County.
The fire reached 23,700 acres — larger than the size of Manhattan — and was only 5 percent contained late Friday, the SFGate.com reported.
No cause has been determined for any of the current fires, but PG&E said a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville in Sonoma County had malfunctioned minutes before that fire erupted Wednesday night.
Gov. Gavin Newsom harshly criticized PG&E on Friday. “We should not have to be here. Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement in the utilities, in particularly PG&E,” he said. “Greed has precipitated a lack of intentionality and focus and a hardening our grid, undergrounding their transmission lines. They simply did not do their job.”