Frustration Mounts as More Blackouts Imposed in California

Anger is reportedly on the rise across Northern California as another round of fire-prevention blackouts has been initiated by the state’s largest utility on Tuesday, Oct. 29. It potentially leaves millions of people without electricity for—in some cases—up to five days or longer.

The shut-offs are an attempt to keep windblown electrical equipment from sparking wildfires. Shut-offs came as crews raced to contain two major blazes in Northern and Southern California.

The fires have destroyed dozens of homes in Sonoma County wine country and in the hills of Los Angeles.

According to Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (PG&E), the latest blackout would affect about 1.5 million people in 29 counties. Already nearly 2.7 million people are still without power Tuesday following a shut-off that took place over the weekend.

California Wildfires Blackout
Ashley LaFranchi examines the remains of her family’s Oak Ridge Angus ranch, leveled by the Kincade Fire, in Calistoga, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Tuesday blackout—which included the Sierra Nevada foothills and parts of Marin County, north of San Francisco—was PG&E’s third in a weekend and fourth in a month, causing people to stock up on ice and search for places to charge their cellphones.

According to the NY Times, phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T—while not offering any specific guarantees—said they were working to minimize disruptions.

One Petaluma resident named Scotty Richardson, whose lights went out Saturday, says the prospect of not having power for days makes him “furious, furious.”

“PG&E can’t figure out how to deliver power reliably without killing people,” he said. “This is more than three strikes—it’s a failure of epic proportions.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom and top utility regulators have accused PG&E of mismanaging its power system and failing for decades to make the investments needed to make it more durable or to plan for such outages.

PG&E is in bankruptcy because of a string of disastrous fires during the past three years, including one that all but destroyed the town of Paradise last year and killed 85 people. Its stock dropped 24 percent Monday to close at $3.80 and was down more than 50 percent since Thursday.

“It’s so obvious it’s just to protect them from more liability,” said Janet Luoma of Santa Rosa, at a Red Cross evacuation shelter.

California Wildfires Blackout
In this Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, photo, Red Cross volunteer Barbara Wood gives a hug to a Kincade fire evacuee at a Red Cross shelter set up for wildfire evacuees at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif., after evacuating her Santa Rosa home in the morning. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat via AP)

Another patron of the shelter in Santa Rosa, Chris Sherman, was waiting for the all-clear to go home while remaining alert to the possibility that once he did, he could lose power.

“They don’t seem to know what the hell they’re doing,” he said regarding PG&E. “I’m not sure that they’re really protecting anything.”

The LA Times reported that on Monday PG&E revealed it had failed to notify approximately 23,000 of its customers about the intentional precautionary shutdowns that occurred earlier in the month.

Some of those who lost power in Lafayette, near San Francisco, criticized the utility company for poorly communicating the shut-offs.

“Are we getting power tomorrow, are we not getting power tomorrow? We don’t know,” said Kelly Bitzer, who came to a Safeway supermarket looking for an outlet to charge her phone.

“PG&E has spent millions of dollars giving bonuses to their executives, but they can’t keep up with their infrastructure needs,” she said. “It’s very frustrating.”

AP contributed to this report.