- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

California utilities imposed rolling electricity blackouts in the name of preventing devastating wildfires, but now the state is grappling with both.

With the strongest winds of the year expected to hit late Tuesday, Pacific Gas & Electric warned that it could conduct its third preemptive power outage of the week, affecting as many as 4 million Northern California residents, as the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County grew to 75,000 acres.

In Southern California, firefighters battling the Getty Fire in Los Angeles braced for a fierce Santa Ana wind event forecast to begin late Tuesday, bringing gusts of between 50 to 70 mph, with isolated gusts as high as 80 mph.

A visibly frustrated Gov. Gavin Newsom lashed out at PG&E for its “greed” while praising firefighters and city officials for their coordinated response and preparation, vowing that the cycle of blackouts, wildfires and evacuations plaguing the state was not “the new normal.”

“We’re not even close to where we need to be in this state,” Mr. Newsom said at a press conference in Los Angeles with Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“This is not the new normal, and it doesn’t take a decade to fix this damn thing,” he said. “We’re getting serious about forest management, vegetation management, we’re getting serious about prepositioning, and we’re putting a historic amount of money into new suppression technology.”

The Democratic governor also offered praise for the Trump administration’s assistance in battling California’s seven active wildfires.

“I want to make this point as well: FEMA has been extraordinary,” Mr. Newsom said. “[The] Trump administration has been extraordinarily supportive and helpful. Every request we have made has been granted, and that support has come in real time and the cooperation and collaboration has continued.”

The National Weather Service posted Tuesday red-flag warnings for 43 California counties, driven by a combination of low humidity, high winds and thick, dry vegetation, meaning more blackouts and evacuations are likely as the winds stoke the current fires and whip up new blazes.

Mr. Garcetti said 12 homes in the Los Angeles hills have been lost in the 656-acre Getty fire, which was 15% contained.

“We’re prepared to fight more than a one-front war,” Mr. Garcetti said. “We have poured so much into this over the last day and a half precisely because we know that when that wind picks up, fires can start in other parts of the city.”

He urged residents to assist neighbors under evacuation orders — NBA superstar LeBron James was among those evacuated on Monday — in anticipation of “the most significant wind event of Los Angeles of the year,” with gusts expected to peak at 3 a.m. Wednesday but continue until Thursday.

“If you know somebody’s who affected, make sure they have a place to stay,” Mr. Garcetti said. “Open up your home. We’ve had so many people do that. It’s been beautiful to see.”

In Northern California, dozens of structures, including a Sonoma County winery, have been destroyed as millions of residents face more power outages, driven by PG&E’s efforts to avoid having its transmission lines spark more wildfires.

PG&E declared bankruptcy after the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most expensive wildfire in state history, which was caused by a faulty transmission line. The utility has since ordered blackouts on especially dry and windy days to avoid sparking blazes in and near Northern California’s overgrown woodlands.

Mr. Newsom called on the state’s three big investor-owned utilities to “do the damn work that is long overdue to focus on modernizing their grid, undergrounding their grid, and making sure they have a grid where they can target these blackouts in a more sophisticated manner.”

He added, “And we’re not in a position of reacting to these fires and dealing with their mess.”

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