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PG&E Considering Blackout That Could Affect 124K Northern California Customers

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) -- As fire danger ramps up, PG&E said Sunday that it's considering shutting off power to nine Northern California counties, meaning 124,000 customers could lose power by Monday evening.

Counties Impacted By PG&E Blackout
List of potential counties impacted if PG&E decides to go through with the power shutoff (CBS)

Fire conditions in the North Bay are changing by the hour and the Santa Rosa Fire Department is deploying additional engines in Sonoma County. The Santa Rosa Fire Department added up to 10 engines Sunday afternoon after the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning.

According to PG&E, around 33,500 customers would be affected by a power shutoff in Sonoma County alone.

Late Sunday evening, PG&E upgraded their Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) forecast for Napa, Lake and Sonoma Counties to "Watch" for Monday and Tuesday, meaning the risk for a power shutoff on those days increased slightly.

It's an uneasy time for many living in the area with the two year anniversary of the Wine Country wildfires just around the corner.

Andrea and Mike Erwin are glad to be back home. After losing their house nearly two years ago in the Tubbs Fire, they were able to move back in just four days ago.

"It's surreal, unbelievable to be back home," said Andrea Erwin.

The Erwins were motivated to quickly rebuild for their high school-aged kids. Their three children lived in one home until the fires destroyed their house.

But now the threat of another blaze is prompting fire departments in the North Bay and PG&E to team up to monitor weather conditions. Starting Monday at 9 p.m., parts of the North Bay will be under an elevated fire watch.

Paul Lowenthal with the Santa Rosa Fire Department says extra resources are already being deployed into the community.

"The idea behind that, anytime an incident develops, we can respond with more crews than we have done in the last," said Lowenthal.

PG&E is also doing its part; the public utility company has elevated the public safety power shutoff status to reduce the risk of another major wildfire.

"We ask everyone to be prepared for customers to be without power for at least 48 hours because it just depends on the weather," said Deanna Contreras.

The Erwins put in upgrades such as indoor sprinklers to protect their house from another devastating fire. But after what this family has experienced, the hope is to enjoy their new home for many years to come.

The Erwins say they support PG&E's policy of shutting down power preemptively. But not all their neighbors agree.

"I don't want the electricity shut off, I don't think that's going to solve the problem," said Dan Steele of D&S Ponds, who lost his Coffey Park home in the  Tubbs Fire.

His business, D&S Ponds, fixes up backyard ponds and depends on electricity to keep fish and other animals alive. Steele said he just does not trust PG&E's priorities.

"I think keeping the trees clear from the power lines, putting the power lines underground will keep the fires from happening," Steele said. "I don't think shutting the power off to all the people around in roaming blackouts is the way to go."

Mike Adams, a customer at Mary's Pizza, said business owners are still traumatized by a major fire two years ago that wiped out entire neighborhoods, but not everyone's thrilled either about a forced power outage that could take a slice out of their bottom line.

"If you are somebody who owns a business here in Sonoma County, is three days being safe or is it going to hurt your business? I mean, personally, three days is going to hurt my business."

KPIX 5's Andrea Nakano and Joe Vazquez contributed to this report.


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