US

Evacuations Ordered as Wildfire Spreads in Bay Area Town

By The Associated Press

Police have ordered evacuations as a fast-moving wildfire spreads in the hills of a San Francisco Bay Area community.

Moraga-Orinda firefighters responded to the scene near the St. Mary’s College campus early on Oct. 10. The school does not appear threatened at this time.

Cal Fire says the flames consumed about 60 acres in little more than two hours.

Moraga police ordered evacuations in the town’s Sanders Ranch neighborhood. Residents were told to take only essential items.

The community in Contra Costa County is part of Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) ongoing pre-emptive electricity shutdowns.

1.5 Million Californians in the Dark

More than 1.5 million people in Northern California were in the dark Thursday, most for a second day, after the state’s largest utility cut off electricity to more customers to prevent wind-fueled wildfires amid dry weather and strong winds sweeping through the region.

The unpopular move by PG&E that disrupted daily life was prompted by weather forecasts creating extreme wildfire danger and came after catastrophic fires sent the utility into bankruptcy and forced it to take more aggressive steps to prevent blazes.

PGE Power Shutdown
The map shows PG&E’s power shutoffs in the Bay Area, Northern California. (Photo courtesy of PG&E)

Overall, about 734,000 customers and as many as 2 million people could be affected. PG&E has warned that they might have to do without power for days after the winds subside because “every inch” of the power system must be inspected by helicopters and thousands of groundworkers and declared safe before the grid is reactivated.

In the El Dorado Hills east of Sacramento, Ruth Self and her son were taking an outage in stride while leaving a Safeway grocery store that had been stripped nearly bare of bottled water and ice.

Self said she wasn’t upset, given the lives lost nearly a year ago in Paradise, invoking images of people who burned in their cars trying to escape.

California Wildfires Utility Bankruptcy
Eric England, (R), searches through a friend’s vehicle after the wildfire burned through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 10, 2018. (Noah Berger/(AP Photo)

“I just can’t imagine,” she said. “Hopefully (the outages) are only for a couple days. I think it’s more of a positive than a negative. Ask me again on Friday night when I haven’t had a shower in two days, when I’ve had to spend two days playing card games.”

Reconfiguring Power System

PG&E announced that by reconfiguring its power system, it had restored electricity to 44,000 customers who weren’t in areas of high fire risk, and it could bring back power to 60,000 to 80,000 customers in the Humboldt area, where gusty winds had subsided.

Also because of shifting forecasts, the utility said it was reducing the third phase of its blackout plan, set to begin Thursday, to only about 4,600 customers in Kern County—one-tenth of the original estimate.

By Brian Melley and Terence Chea