Power could be cut to 76,000 in Southern California on Thanksgiving due to fire risk

Hayley Smith
LITTLE ROCK, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Power lines against smoke from Bobcat fire rageing in Juniper Hills. Wild fire that has now chewed through more than 60,000 acres, has burned through the Angeles National Forest has reached Foothills of the Antelope Valley in three different locations burning near Devil's Punchbowl nature area , the second is advancing toward Tumbleweed Road from Cruthers Creek, and the third has jumped Juniper Hills Road at Longview Road Juniper Hills on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 in Little Rock, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Some Southern California Edison customers could spend Thanksgiving without power due to an elevated wildfire risk. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

As many as 76,000 Southern California Edison customers could spend Thanksgiving without power because of elevated wildfire risk, the utility company said Wednesday.

Communities from Hemet to Ventura may lose power as part of a "public safety power shut-off" intended to keep electrical systems from becoming a source of wildfire ignition, as forecasts call for gusty Santa Ana winds and dry conditions across the Southland.

The National Weather Service said the powerful winds were expected to begin Thursday and last through Friday evening.

Gusts of up to 65 mph could pummel parts of the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Clarita Valley, San Gabriel Mountains and Malibu, said meteorologist Ryan Kittell of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

“We are expecting the peak to be Thursday night through Friday,” Kittell said, “but Thursday afternoon will also be pretty windy. It’s not going to be the greatest time for anyone with plans for portable shelters or eating outdoors.”

It will be a colder Santa Ana event than usual, Kittell said, with temperatures hovering in the upper 60s to mid-70s, but no less dangerous. The weather service upgraded a fire weather watch to a red flag warning for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Red flag warnings indicate ideal conditions for wildfires to ignite.

Edison spokesman Reggie Kumar said the decision to shut off power — especially on one of the most anticipated holidays of the year — would not be taken lightly but added that public safety had to be a priority.

“We know public safety power shut-offs are disruptive to our customers and communities, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said. "We are doing all we can to keep the power flowing and reduce the number and length of our shut-offs that could occur possibly tomorrow or Friday.”

The company has already notified customers who may be affected by the shut-off, Kumar said, which includes more than 15,000 customers in Los Angeles County, 42,000 in San Bernardino County and 12,000 in Ventura County, among others.

Kumar said Edison was able to “isolate its circuits,” meaning any shut-offs will be as narrow and specific as possible, to limit the number of homes without power. Residents can enter their address here to see if they may be affected.

Edison has already come under scrutiny for its potential role in September's Bobcat fire, which may have ignited after tree branches hit one of the utility's power lines. That fire burned through more than 115,000 acres and destroyed at least 80 homes, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

But it's not only winds that pose a threat: Low humidity and a lack of precipitation can also dry out vegetation, creating fuel for flames. Kittel said those hoping for wet relief from the state's worst wildfire season would have to wait a bit longer.

"Rain chances are looking pretty minimal to nonexistent all the way through at least the first week of December," he said. "In fact, there may even be another Santa Ana event sometime in the middle of next week."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.