PG&E protocol would cut power across West Marin in extreme weather

08/15/2018

During a wildfire, electrical lines make for powerful ignitors. Rather than wait for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or local firefighters to request a power shutoff once a fire is already raging, PG&E is instituting new protocol to shut off electricity in at-risk areas before fires develop. The initiative is part of the company’s new Community Wildlife Fire Safety Program, and the shutoff protocol would be used as a last resort during extreme weather conditions that carry a significant threat of fire. “There isn’t a magic formula or algorithm, but a combination of things,” PG&E’s North Bay spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said. Those factors involve low humidity, dry or windy conditions, critically dry vegetation or reports from PG&E crews on the ground. The planned power outages would last at least 24 hours, but do not have a set time limit. Areas in West Marin, including parts of Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Stinson Beach, Bolinas and Olema are all served by electric lines that run through what PG&E calls “extreme fire-threat areas.” PG&E has sent letters and emails to half a million homes and businesses in the North Bay—including 58,000 in Marin—that could be affected by the shutoffs, which would be preceded by two alerts, one 48 hours in advance and another 24 hours later. Though the outage would affect landlines, residents can register on PG&E’s website to receive alerts via text message or cell phone calls. (The Marin County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services’ Alert Marin notification system also sends emergency notifications about wildfire threats to those who sign up.) County services, facilities and infrastructure would also be impacted by the shutoff protocol, though emergency services provided by the fire department and Sheriff’s Office would continue to run through generator power. As part of the safety program, PG&E will also be working with homeowners to create fire defense zones by clearing vegetation on property that runs under electric lines. And in an effort to strengthen its system, the company said in a press release that it will invest in stronger, coated power lines, space the lines further apart and replace wooden poles with steel ones. “A lot of people claim   there have been fires that have started from power lines going down and sparking fires,” Chris O’Reilly, emergency services manager at the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, said. “If the conditions are right and cause that to happen, having the power shut off in advance would certainly help.” Residents can learn if their property is located by visting  PG&E’s wildfire safety page atpge.com/en_US/safety/emergency-preparedness/natural-disaster/wildfires/wildfire-safety.page and clicking on the community wildfire safety link at the bottom, or by calling PG&E's hotline at (866) 734.6589. Those interested in signing up for the Alert Marin notification system should go to marinsheriff.org/services/emergency-services/alert-marin.