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PG&E power shut-offs could hit 115,000 Bay Area customers starting Wednesday

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 11/19/2019 By Michael Cabanatuan
a group of people sitting at a desk in front of a computer: Neal Narayan, left, and Anthony Malnati, Sr., both of whom are wildfire safety operation center analysts for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., monitor a small fire on the 16-screen video wall as well their stations in PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters on Aug. 5, 2019. © Amy Osborne / Special To The Chronicle

Neal Narayan, left, and Anthony Malnati, Sr., both of whom are wildfire safety operation center analysts for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., monitor a small fire on the 16-screen video wall as well their stations in PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters on Aug. 5, 2019.

Winds — and fire danger — are expected to pick up in parts of the Bay Area early Wednesday through Thursday morning, prompting an increasingly familiar combination of red flag fire weather warnings and possible power shutoffs for more than 115,000 local PG&E customers.

Sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph from the north and northeast are expected to sweep across the dry vegetation of the North Bay mountains, East Bay hills and the Diablo range with gusts on peaks and ridges surpassing 60 miles per hour. The combination of strong winds, low humidity and dried-out vegetation could quickly turn a small blaze into a raging wildfire.

Bay Area residents have come to know this means PG&E could shut off the power as a precaution, possibly for days. The utility issued a “watch” that could result in 303,000 customers in parts of 25 Northern California counties losing their electricity beginning Wednesday.

PG&E customers could receive 24-hour notifications starting Tuesday that their power will be cut.

About 115,000 customers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties could be affected. PG&E officials said the shutoffs would come in phases starting as early as Wednesday morning. San Francisco is not expected to be affected.

National Weather Service forecasters say that Tuesday’s weather should be slightly breezy with winds shifting toward the coast this evening and picking up speed at higher elevations.

“As that happens, we’re going to see humidities plummet early Wednesday morning, and that’s when the fire danger begins to pick up,” said Roger Gass, National Weather Service meteorologist.

The red flag warning begins at 4 a.m. Wednesday and continues through 7 a.m. Thursday.

PG&E could begin shut-offs early Wednesday and roll them out in phases as weather conditions change, company spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said. If power is cut it could be out until winds subside Thursday, she added. PG&E would then have a goal of restoring all power, after lines are inspected for damage, by Thursday night.

“This is not something we take lightly,” Sarkissian said. “We won’t do it unless we have to do it. We’re monitoring conditions and will make decisions as weather conditions change.”

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ctuan

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