By Marc Arcas
San Francisco, Sep 8 (efe-epa).- Almost 200,000 homes suffered power outages on Tuesday morning in California, and the situation could recur in the coming hours due to the many wildfires burning around the state.
The state’s main electricity provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), warned on the weekend that it could have to cut back service deliberately to prevent the system from becoming overloaded, given that the zone is also baking in an intense heat wave and people are using their air conditioning units quite heavily.
The power cuts affected 22 counties, including the wine growing regions of Napa and Sonoma, and there is another blackout announced for Tuesday in Kern County which could be extended into nearby areas.
The logic behind the power cuts is that, at a time of very high electricity demand due to AC usage and other devices to deal with the heat, the power grid may become overloaded and emit sparks that, given the very dry conditions and strong winds in the area, could result in new fires or augment those that are already burning.
It was the malfunction of a PG&E high tension tower that caused the deadliest fire in California history in 2018, a blaze that engulfed almost the entire town of Paradise and killed more than 80 people.
Already, 2020 has become the year in which the most land area in California’s recent history has burned, with 890,308 hectares (some 2.23 million acres, or 3,480 square miles) having been destroyed so far, exceeding the previous record set just two years ago.
The big fear among the authorities is that the burned-over territory will continue to increase during the so-called fire season in October and November given the extraordinarily dry conditions.
California is experiencing its second wave of fires in just a few weeks, and this time the blazes are concentrated in the central and southern parts of the state, in contrast to the first wave in mid-August, which mainly affected Northern California.
Of all the currently active fires, the Sierra Nevada blaze in eastern California is the one that has spread fastest in recent hours, burning two dozen homes in the tiny town of Big Creek and forcing the complete evacuation of the 2,500 people who live in Auberry.
In addition, the fires on Sunday forced the helicopter evacuation of more than 200 people who were staying in the popular camping zone known as Mammoth Pool.
Since early on Friday, the Creek fire – as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has dubbed it – has already burned 58,300 hectares (about 146,000 acres) and the 10 contingents of firefighters working to control it still have not managed to make much headway against the blaze.
Simultaneously, another fire is burning in San Bernardino County near Los Angeles and has destroyed 4,250 hectares (about 10,600 acres) after erupting on Saturday morning after a “pyrotechnic device” being used in a party set fire to a grassy area, firefighters said. This fire is deemed to be 16 percent controlled at present.
The third big fire that began on the weekend also started on Saturday in a forested area east of San Diego near the Mexican border and it has burned more than 7,000 hectares (17,500 acres).
Forecasts for the coming hours are not encouraging, with the National Weather Service on Tuesday issuing a “red alert” until Wednesday night warning that winds of between 40-65 kilometers (25-40 miles) per hour are expected in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the eastern part of the state, especially in the Tehachapi Mountains.