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Shutting Off Power With No Warning, PG&E Hopes To Prevent Wildfires

AUBURN (CBS13) — Losing power to prevent wildfires? Pacific Gas and Electric has been shutting off power to prevent wildfires since 2019, but now it's happening without warning.

The utility company is relying on technology to shut off powerlines in high-fire risk areas, especially when there's a threat of critical fire weather.

Recently, Auburn did lose power back-to-back but crews restored it within two to three hours.

It wasn't because of a tree limb, but a squirrel.

"If there's a squirrel that chews on a powerline or disturbs some of the power equipment, it could be a bird, it could be debris, it could be a metallic balloon – when it comes into contact with a powerline, it shuts off power," said Mayra tostado, a PG&E spokesperson.

This feature is called Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings.

PG&E hopes the ultra-sensitive technology reduces sparks on lines and equipment and prevents wildfires.

"Personally, I can live with power outages every now and then," said Keith Gershon, a customer.

I don't know enough about powerlines and trees touching them to know if that's a real factor, said another customer, Darlene Malott.

"But I give them credit for at least taking the initiative to take that into consideration," she said.

Another question: does the system work?

So far this year, the utility company reports it's seen an 82% reduction in CPUC-reportable ignitions that could result in a wildfire compared to the three-year average.

CBS13 is learning a majority of circuits with the safety settings will be activated now until the end of the wildfire season.

About 200 circuits will be enabled on days when there's a red flag warning and disabled when weather conditions improve.

"I don't know if it's good enough in terms of fire prevention, but it's one step to help prevent fires," said Janet Rossi, a customer.

The safety system is offered in multiple counties. To find out if there are Enhanced Power Safety Settings near your home, click here.

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