- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 19, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Pacific Gas & Electric said it will begin shutting off power to about 375,000 people in 18 Northern and Central California counties on Wednesday because of the wildfire threat from another round of dry, windy weather.

The state’s largest utility decreased the number of people who could be affected from an original estimate of about 660,000 based on updated forecasts and said it will closely monitor the weather and could further reduce that number if it improves.

At the same time, PG&E; officials said it wasn’t taking any chances when, in the middle of November, the usual rain hasn’t fallen in some areas, brush remains bone-dry and winds that could gust to 55 mph (88.5 kph) might knock tree branches or other debris into power lines, causing sparks that could set catastrophic fires.

“This lack of rain is keeping the threat of fire very real, this late in the season, in many areas,” said Scott Strenfel, PG&E;’s principal meteorologist.

The planned blackouts will affect counties north of Sacramento, in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills.

The weather should ease by Thursday morning, allowing PG&E; to begin restoring power, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E;’s senior director of emergency preparedness and response.

The planned blackout would be the latest in a series of massive outages by the country’s largest utility, including one last month that affected nearly 2.5 million people and outraged local officials and customers who accused the utility of overkill and using blackouts as a crutch because it failed to harden its equipment to withstand fire weather.

The outages have been “terribly disruptive” and PG&E; is taking steps to avoid them in the future but at the moment, “we won’t roll the dice on public safety,” company CEO Andy Vesey said.

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