Pacific Gas & Electric was still restoring power Oct. 11 to more than 800,000 electricity consumers it shut off due to high-fire-risk conditions, increasing public rage against an already unpopular utility and bringing regular daily life to a halt across a large swath of Northern California.
Also, in Southern California on the morning of Oct. 11, Southern California Edison had cut power to 20,000 customer accounts near Los Angeles. Fire officials were also dealing with the Saddle Ridge Fire, a fast-moving blaze fed by high winds that led to an evacuation order for 100,000 people in the San Fernando Valley.
In Northern California, PG&E received a drubbing from elected officials over the notification process for the outage.
"It's decisions that were not made that led to this point in PG&E's history and the state of California as it relates to our major investor-owned utility," Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an Oct. 10 news conference. "It is not conditions. This is not, from my perspective, a climate-change story, as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades."
After PG&E turned the power off in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, homes and businesses went dark, schools and universities in the Bay Area and across Northern California canceled classes, and facilities like the Oakland Zoo closed in the latest of the public-safety power shut-offs (PSPS), which followed a prior round that began Sept. 23. Local grocery stores with backup generators remained open and were flooded with people buying up food, ice, water and other supplies on the first day of the unprecedented Oct. 9 outage. Multiple vehicle crashes were reported as traffic signals went out, and transportation and water officials issued warnings to be careful on roadways and to conserve water.
"We faced a choice between hardship or safety, and we chose safety," PG&E Senior VP of Electric Operations Michael Lewis said in an Oct. 10 written statement. "We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and the hardship, but we stand by the decision because the safety of our customers and communities must come first."
PG&E said at about 12 p.m. Oct. 11 that about 543,000 customer accounts impacted by the PSPS had their power restored, including full restoration in Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Yolo counties, while fewer than 195,000 remained without power.
There were no reported fires related to PG&E equipment in areas where power was cut, although it had received "many preliminary reports" of vegetation-related damage, it said. A third phase of cut-offs was planned in Kern County, although inspections of de-energized lines were beginning. The utility said it has more than 6,000 personnel on the ground and 45 helicopters inspecting almost 25,000 miles of distribution lines and 2,500 miles of transmission lines. High-wind conditions continued in parts of the Bay Area and the Sierra foothills Oct. 10, with winds picking up in Kern County, PG&E said.
On social media, PG&E customers vented their frustration, with many saying they could not get clear information on when outages would occur. PG&E's website went down Oct. 8, and the next day the company erected a barrier in front of its San Francisco headquarters. Many commentators on social media said they didn't think the wind was very bad and didn't understand why power was cut.
PG&E offered multiple warnings of the outages in the days leading up to the event. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Oct. 8 issued a red-flag warning for Northern California and a fire-weather watch for Southern California from the morning of Oct. 9 through the evening of the next day due to wind gusts and low humidity.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf held a press conference Oct. 8, telling residents to prepare for an outage of up to five days. There are 12 schools in the Oakland District affected by the outages, or about 5,000 students. Grocery stores were selling out of ice and batteries, sales of gas-powered generators surged, and residents were filling their vehicles with fuel in long lines.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told residents in a news conference to expect outages of up to seven days, and to "shelter in place" and avoid roadways because traffic signals wouldn't be functioning. The City of Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County declared a citywide curfew on the night of Oct. 10.
After initially cutting power to parts of the Sierra foothills, later on Oct. 9, PG&E announced shut-offs in 10 more counties: Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus and Tuolumne.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District said water users would be asked to restrict usage to retain water supplies in storage tanks. The utility said a power shut-off would force it to go to backup generators and pumps for pumping plants, water-treatment plants and other facilities to keep water flowing and the system pressurized.
PG&E stock took a hit this week over developments in its bankruptcy hearing and the outages, falling 31 percent to $7.88 per share Oct. 10, according to MarketWatch.
Southern California Edison said early on Oct. 10 it was considering cutting power to about 174,000 customer accounts in Los Angeles County and surrounding counties. Around noon that day, it shut off power to 13,000 customers in Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Many customers were still without power on the morning of Oct. 11.