ORCUTT, Calif. - At least half of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network, most recently connected to the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise that killed 85 people.
Owing at least $30 billion as a result, the company’s latest safety move sends a message to customers ahead of fire season - be prepared for blackouts to prevent wildfires.
Some 5.4 million letters from PG&E have been sent out, popping up in mailboxes in the Santa Maria and Orcutt areas, notifying customers to expect power outages in cases of severe weather or fires.
PG&E says they’re implementing the Public Safety Power Shutoff Program in response to recent 2017 and 2018 wildfires.
“We wanted to make sure that we were taking additional precautionary measures in order to keep the public safe from this increase in wildfire risk that’s really taking place as a result of the changes in climate all throughout the state of California,” said Jeff Smith, a PG&E Spokesperson.
The company says that if extreme fire danger conditions threaten a portion of your community’s electric system, it will be necessary to turn off power in the interest of public safety.
“There are safety risks on both sides, both with turning the power off as well as with leaving it on when there are serious fire conditions in play,” said Smith.
Steven Cochran says he and his wife survived a tornado when they were living in Canada, so after moving to Orcutt they bought a generator.
“We bought our house, I hooked it up so that way if we had a power outage or something like that I could plug it into the house turn off the main breaker and we’d have power when we needed it,” said Cochran.
PG&E says should they have to shut off power, most customers will be restored within the first 48 hours and they’ll carefully review factors like strong winds and low humidity levels before flipping a switch.
“you just learn to live with it” 05:15-16
Shelby Traylor also puts the proposed inconvenience into perspective.
“We happened to live through the Alamo Fire and the evacuations and knowing that we might not return to our house,” said Traylor a Tepusquet Canyon Resident.
The electric company is urging people to update their contact info because that’s how you’ll be notified in they need to shut off your power.
PG&E also urges families to have a fire safety plan.
For Traylor, it’s a small price to pay for more peace of mind.
“If someone felt like that would make it safer out there, especially where I live, I’d probably be ok with it because I don’t want to go through that again,” said Traylor.
The City of Santa Maria also received this letter and will be meeting with PG&E officials next week to discuss the city’s role in the event of a shutoff.