Ventura Air Tanker

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the Easy Fire this week in Ventura County.

California utilities were restoring power to hundreds of thousands of customer accounts Oct. 31, after another week of high winds, power outages and wildfires sent residents scrambling and led to a step-up in response efforts from state officials.

Pacific Gas & Electric also disclosed its equipment might be involved with other new fires, as did Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

The winds and high-fire-risk conditions in Northern and Southern California led to firefighters putting down more than 330 fires in a 20-hour period, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an Oct. 28 news conference.

"I recognize this moment generates a tremendous amount of anxiety," Newsom said, "but this is interestingly a moment in California that is very familiar." He pointed out that while fire activity has been less this year after a wet winter, it has been above average in recent weeks. Newsom declared a state of emergency Oct. 27 and announced a $75-million program to help communities recover from the power shut-offs.

PG&E said the afternoon of Oct. 31 that it had restored power to about 359,000 customer accounts since the Oct. 29 shut-off, and about 6,700 customer accounts remained without electricity. Safety crews were inspecting de-energized equipment and had found 156 incidents of damage or other hazards, with that number due to increase. The incidents could have led to wildfire ignitions if the lines were not de-energized, PG&E said. It had restored power to 34 counties and power was still to be restored in 12 others, with many of those already more than 90 percent restored. About 9,800 customers were without power in the Kincade Fire area in Sonoma County.

PG&E conducted widespread shut-offs on Oct. 26 and again on Oct. 29, as fire crews struggled to contain the Kincade Fire, which is being investigated as resulting from a failure of PG&E equipment (CU No. 1925 [11]). The fire was at about 78,000 acres and 68 percent contained at midday Nov. 1.

"Additionally, PG&E proactively turned off natural gas service for safety to approximately 25,000 customers located within the Kincade Fire areas," the utility said. "More than 500 gas personnel, including mutual assistance from Southern California Gas Co. and Southwest Gas, are working to support the gas restoration process in Sonoma County."

Another fast-expanding blaze, the Maria Fire, came to life in Ventura County on Oct. 31, requiring thousands of people to evacuate. It was at about 8,000 acres early in the morning on Nov. 1.

San Diego Gas & Electric on Oct. 31 had restored power to most of its 25,000 customers affected by power shut-offs. As of the morning of Nov. 1, Southern California Edison had 987 customers out, and zero under threat of a PSPS. LADWP had 2,600 customers out in the area of the Getty Fire on Oct. 28, but had restored power to most of those the next day.

The California PUC opened a new investigation on Oct. 28 into the outages, saying it was "taking additional urgent actions focused on public health and safety to drive down risks of ignitions from utility infrastructure, risks that result from power loss, and the disruption to communities and commerce."

The commission said it would perform an immediate re-examination of how utilities use PSPSes, create new consumer protections, expand wildfire mitigation programs, and enlist new technology partnerships.

"The state cannot continue to experience PSPS events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited," CPUC President Marybel Batjer said in a written statement.

The week also saw utilities announcing that their equipment might have been involved with new fires. PG&E is being investigated in connection with the Cypress Fire in Oakley and two fires in Lafayette, it told the CPUC in Oct. 27 and Oct. 30 reports.

SCE told the CPUC it detected circuit activity on its system at the same time the Easy Fire started in Ventura, and said during an earnings call that it had officially been found responsible for the Woolsey Fire.

Also, LADWP said a tree branch blowing into one of its lines might have caused the Getty Fire in Southern California. The Los Angeles Fire Department was lifting evacuation orders Oct. 31, and the 745-acre fire was 66 percent contained on Nov. 1.

"Based on the investigation, LAFD has stated that the fire was likely caused by a tree branch that broke off during the high wind conditions and landed on nearby power lines, which resulted in arcing and sparking that ignited nearby brush," LADWP said.

Four firefighters were injured, 10 residences destroyed and 15 other residences damaged, according to fire officials.