Dark Skies And Smoke Slow Down PG&E Effort To Restore Power

By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

After triggering a safety related power shutoff this week, PG&E hoped to have service restored to 98% of its customers by Wednesday evening.

But the thick smoke and dark, orange sky meant the utility fell short of its goal.

“We had 16 helicopters that were grounded due to the incredible smoke that we saw in the atmosphere,” said PG&E Incident Commander Mark Quinlan. “And the 34 helicopters that did fly had to wait to get up into the air because of the impact of that smoke kept it darker a little bit later into the morning.”

So instead, crews drove and even hiked into some remote areas to inspect and repair lines damaged by winds.

Crews were able to get power restored to 85% of its customers Wednesday night. The bulk of the customers are in Butte County, where the winds were up to 66 miles per hour, and Humboldt County.

Quinlan says those winds caused dozens of instances of damage.

“Each one of those damage cases presents an opportunity for an arc flash event, a spark event. And when you have that happen and that falls to the ground, in extremely dry - tinder dry - conditions with the high winds, it can cause an ignition. An ignition that could be very, very difficult to control.”

So as inconvenient and even dangerous as it can be to lose power in a heat wave and then morning darkness, Quinlan says that is why the company is continuing with power shutoffs.

Speaking on the anniversary of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, Quinlan said the shutoffs are working as intended.

“We have not found any evidence that our facilities were involved in any wildfire ignitions through this most recent windstorm.”

PG&E says all power should be restored by noon Thursday.