California’s largest utility is taking its most extreme step yet to prevent another wildfire on Wednesday, when Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will cut power starting just after midnight Tuesday to about 800,000 of its customers throughout its service area.
Of the Bay Area’s nine counties, all but San Francisco will be affected by the mass outage intended to stop PG&E power lines from starting wildfires when fast, dry winds blow in after several months without sustained rainfall. Across the state, 34 counties will be affected.
Even customers far from the dangerous weather could lose power if PG&E turns off a line serving them that passes through a place that will experience the severe conditions. And some could be affected long after the winds die down because the company will have to inspect all of the power lines it turns off, and that can’t happen until the winds die down.
PG&E confirmed that it was considering the dramatic fire-prevention measure Tuesday after issuing a warning Monday it might do so. Outages will occur as far south as Kern and Santa Barbara counties and as far north as Trinity County, according to PG&E.
The company said communities will lose power at different times “depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions,” beginning in the north.
PG&E’s shut-offs are intended to prevent the company’s equipment from starting the kind of wildfires it was responsible for in October 2017, when power lines started a series of fires in the North Bay, and last year, when they ignited the historically deadly and destructive Camp Fire in Butte County.
The utility has had the program in place for more than a year, but has never used it on as wide a scale as it intends to do Wednesday. PG&E also expanded the program since it was first launched — now, any line can be turned off, even high-voltage ones that serve many people far away.
Some of the Bay Area’s largest cities will see neighborhoods blacked out, including San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, Santa Rosa, Hayward, Berkeley, Fairfield, Richmond, San Mateo and San Leandro. Affected areas stretch from Half Moon Bay to Antioch and Cloverdale to Gilroy.
The utility on Tuesday released new estimates of how many customers in each county the shut-offs could affect. The estimates included 32,680 customers in Alameda; 51,310 in Contra Costa; 9,855 in Marin; 32,124 in Napa; 14,766 in San Mateo; 38,250 in Santa Clara; 32,863 in Solano; and 66,289 in Sonoma. A single customer account might be a residence or business with multiple people, so the true number of people who lose power is likely far more than the 800,000-customer figure PG&E shared — possibly into the millions.
PG&E has been warning customers by email, text messages and automated phone calls. Customers are urged to update their contact information online if they haven’t done so already. PG&E has also made it possible for people who aren’t direct utility customers to get alerts about a particular location — for example, an office or a school, or an apartment building where the landlord pays the utilities.
If you need a place to go while the power is down, PG&E is opening Community Resource Centers starting Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Each center will have restrooms, bottled water, air-conditioning, electrical charging, and seating for 100 people. Centers will only be open during daylight hours.
Check our Bay Area Outage Map to see if your community is affected.
Heres where the centers are, by county.
Merritt College, Lot B., Leona St., Oakland
Contra Costa County
Bishop Ranch Parking Lot, 2600 Camino Ramon, San Ramon
1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo
Calistoga Fairgrounds, 1601 N. Oak, Calistoga
San Mateo County
Pasta Moon Restaurant, 845 Main St., Half Moon Bay
Santa Clara County
Avaya Stadium, 1123 Coleman Avenue, San Jose
Mission Church, 6391 Leisure Town Rd., Vacaville
Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa
Around the Bay Area, emergency services offices and PG&E blasted out email and text alerts, automated phone calls and news releases urging Bay Area residents to take the potential power shutdowns seriously and make preparations.
“We encourage you to find alternative energy sources for light, charging devices and other necessities,” Alameda County officials said. “Plan ahead with food and water, and make sure your grab-and-go emergency kits are ready.”
At the Oakland Zoo, the staff was busy Tuesday setting up setting up generators and heading out to buy more in preparation for an outage. The zoo will close to the public if it loses power, but concern about revenue loss takes a backseat to the zoo administrator’s main priority — animal safety.
“We have some generators at the zoo, but we certainly need more,” said Nik Dehejia, the zoo’s chief financial officer. “If it’s a day or two, we’re OK. If it goes well beyond that, we’re going to be looking for help and see what we need to do.”
The zoo has three endangered species of frogs and toads, which require temperature-controlled habitats, that zoo-keepers are working to rehabilitate in the wild. “It would be devastating if those frog and toad species are lost,” Dehejia said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that they receive the temperature regulation that they need.”
While people hit stores to stock up on batteries, coolers, ice and canned foods, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf joined the call to be prepared but criticized PG&E for potentially cutting power for as long as five days.
“This is the type of interruption to our lives that should not happen,” she said. “This type of interruption is not acceptable. We are going to do it because we believe it is in the interest of the safety of the people, but we have got to do better.”
National Weather Service forecasters have issued red-flag warnings for the East Bay and North Bay hills, as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Cool, dry winds are expected to increase to 20 to 30 mph with gusts between 45 mph and 55 mph in the North Bay and East Bay hills — and even higher on North Bay peaks like Mount St. Helena.
The northeast winds, known as Diablo winds, will be dry but temperatures are not expected to be hot Wednesday. Temperatures will range from the 60s near the coast to the 70s inland, with a few locations hitting 80 degrees. Tuesday’s temperatures are expected to be in the low- to mid-70s in San Francisco and Oakland as the fog returns, and the low 80s inland.
The cool, windy weather is the result of a cold front moving down from Canada and heading east through the Great Basin.
“It will be cooler than it’s been, that’s for sure,” said Anna Schneider, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey.
Chronicle staff writers Anna Bauman and Sarah Ravani contributed to this report.