500,000 without power in California as PG&E cuts electricity over fire concerns

Catherine Garcia

Pacific Gas & Electric, California's biggest utility, has been shutting off electricity for users since early Wednesday in an attempt to avoid wildfires started by downed power lines.

More than 500,000 customers in Northern and Central California are without power, and there are 300,000 additional outages planned for late Wednesday. The utility expects that close to 2 million people in 34 counties will ultimately be affected, some for multiple days. Several recent wildfires, including the devastating Camp Fire last year that killed 85 people, have been blamed on equipment malfunctions.

Winds with gusts of 35 to 45 miles per hour are forecast for Thursday, and meteorologist Steve Anderson with the National Weather Service's Bay Area office told The Associated Press that PG&E needed to shut down electricity before the high winds arrive. This excuse didn't fly with Joseph Pokorski in Sonoma, who told AP it was "unreasonable" to cut power without winds. "They're ... closing everything down so they don't get sued," he said. "They don't trim the trees, so we suffer." There has been a run on grocery and hardware stores, where people are picking up everything from nonperishable food items to flashlights; gas stations have also been swamped.