Fire threat brings 2nd day of power cuts in California

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FILE – In this Nov. 26, 2018, file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric lineman works to repair a power line in fire-ravaged Paradise, Calif. PG & E anticipates shutting off power in 9 California counties due to hot, dry and windy conditions even as it formalizes settlements with the vast majority of claims from the deadly Northern California wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The San Francisco utility will make a final decision before noon Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, on whether it will cut power. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tens of thousands of Northern Californians found themselves without electricity Wednesday as Pacific Gas & Electric cut power for a second time to reduce the threat of hot, dry winds knocking down power lines and sparking wildfires.

The utility announced it shut off power to more than 48,000 customers in seven Sierra Nevada foothill and wine country counties and the outage will last until the weather improves.

Kaye Diefendorf said she woke up without power at her rural Oroville home but the office building where she works in Chico was not affected by the outages.

“We have power here but at home there is no electricity, no water, no air. It’s terrible,” Diefendorf said, adding that her home relies on water from a well powered by electricity.

FILE – In this Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a vehicle rests in front of a home leveled by the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. Thousands of people in Northern California woke up Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, without electricity after Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to try to prevent wildfires amid windy, dry and hot conditions. PG&E cut electrical service to 24,000 customers in three counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills Monday evening, saying power will remain off until weather conditions improve. AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Butte, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sonoma and Yuba counties were affected by the outage. The utility warned that it could take several days to restore power.

It was the second precautionary shut-off this week. Power was cut to 24,000 customers in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties on Monday and restored for a few hours Tuesday before those customers lost power again Wednesday, said Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman.

Some of the most destructive blazes in the state in the past two years were started by PG&E power lines, including a November blaze that killed 86 people and virtually leveled the town of Paradise.

On Wednesday, schools throughout the region cancelled classes and people sought relief in stores from temperatures forecast to reach triple digits.

Diefendorf said she hoped power is restored before she got home in the afternoon, when temperatures were forecast to reach 100 degrees.

“If there is no power, I guess I’ll sit in my car with the air conditioning on or go to Walmart,” she said.

On Tuesday, Southern California Edison cut power to fewer than 100 people but warned that it was considering shutoffs to more than 140,000 customers in seven counties, depending on weather.

FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2019, file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric truck drives past a PG&E entrance in Daly City, Calif. Thousands of people in Northern California woke up Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, without electricity after Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to try to prevent wildfires amid windy, dry and hot conditions. PG&E cut electrical service to 24,000 customers in three counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills Monday evening, saying power will remain off until weather conditions improve. The utility said it may restore service briefly on Tuesday before it cuts it Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures were forecast in the state through Wednesday, and authorities issued an extreme fire danger warning for some areas, including the Northern California interior.

In January, PG&E sought bankruptcy protection, saying it could not afford an estimated $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from catastrophic wildfires.

Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies holding 85% of the claims from fires that include the Paradise blaze.

The settlement, confirmed Monday, is subject to bankruptcy court approval.

It’s important for PG&E to pull itself from bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a wildfire fund set up to help California’s major utilities pay future claims as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and severe.

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