By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - More than half a million residents in the state of California are without power Wednesday after a utility company shuttered service in an effort to avoid new catastrophic wildfires.
Pacific Gas and Electric cut power to 513,000 customers at midnight, but it expects to severe power to as many as 800,000 residents in central and northern California by midday Wednesday.
The company is attempting to limit wildfire risks from power lines that could potentially be downed by heavy winds expected in the region through Thursday. Winds could reach as high as 60 - 70 mph (97 - 113 kph) in areas of higher elevation, according to Pacific Gas and Electric.
An additional 42,000 customers may have their power cut at a yet undetermined time, the company said in a statement announcing the phased cut-offs. The company is still attempting to determine who, if anyone, might be affected by that contemplated tranche.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event," Michael Lewis, a senior vice president with the company, said in a statement.
Pacific Gas and Electric reached an $11 billion settlement agreement in September tied to historic fires that devastated wide-swathes of California in 2017 and 2018. Officials have determined the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and burned more than 150,000 acres, was sparked by the company's downed power lines.
The Camp Fire is the deadliest in California's history.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection further tied the company's equipment to the majority of the major wildfires that took place in the state in 2017.
Southern California Edison, which is the main regional power company in the lower half of the state, said it is contemplating power cuts as well ahead of the powerful annual winds known as the Santa Anas.
Such an outage would be near-certain to affect Los Angeles, the state's largest city and the second-largest in the U.S.