While the county has yet to experience a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) event so far this fire season, a power shutoff in the coming weeks is a possibility.
Since PG&E began its policy of cutting power due to high fire danger in 2018, there have been a total of 19 PSPS events, and nine of those events have taken place during the month of October.
“Calaveras County Office of Emergency Services (OES) works diligently to maintain open communication with PG&E,” Calaveras County OES Director John Osborn said. “Based on that ongoing conversation, we expect PG&E may initiate a PSPS this season. We also expect that the PSPS events should be shorter in duration, and affect fewer people, based on system improvements that PG&E has made here in Calaveras County. As always, Calaveras County OES urges residents to be prepared for incidents like PSPS events by having extra food and water on hand.”
PG&E customers in Calaveras County have lost power during eight PSPS events. But whether or not the county will experience PSPS events this year will largely depend on the weather.
“There’s not one criteria that makes a PSPS happen—it’s a bunch of different factors,” PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland said. “We look at humidity levels, wind speed, conditions on the ground, temperature, and whether there’s a red flag warning.”
Some of the factors that may result in a PSPS are humidity levels of 30% or below, high winds above 20 mph with gusts above 30-40 mph, and dry fuel conditions.
In 2018, the company called only one PSPS, which affected 60,000 customers, including county residents in Glencoe, Mokelumne Hill, Mountain Ranch, Rail Road Flat, West Point and Wilseyville.
But in 2019, PG&E initiated a total of nine events, impacting about 226,000 customers across the state on average.
“Back in 2019, we had these large scale PSPSs, but we don’t expect to return to that,” McFarland said. “We are able to target more accurately the customers that we need to shut down.”
While PG&E called six PSPS events in 2020, the average number of customers affected each time decreased to about 109,000. Customers in Calaveras County lost power in three of the events, with over 15,000 impacted during the largest shutoff on Oct. 25.
So far this year, there have been three PSPS events in California, with an average of about 19,000 customers affected each time.
McFarland said that the PSPS events have been effective in preventing wildfire.
“In 2020, we saw 257 instances of damage to our lines that could have resulted in a wildfire if the lines were energized,” she said.
PG&E’s efforts to reduce wildfire risk and limit impacts from PSPS events include hardening power lines, installing sectionalizing devices to narrow the scope of the events and installing microgrids with generators, McFarland said.
While the company announced in December of 2020 that it was building a microgrid in Arnold, that project has been delayed due to permitting issues.
“PG&E is ready to begin work, we are just waiting for the final permits,” McFarland said.
So far this year, more than 7,600 wildfires have burned over 2.4 million acres across the state, with three fatalities and more than 3,400 structures damaged or destroyed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over 97% of Calaveras County is experiencing exceptional drought, indicating that fire season is very costly, and the number of fires and area burned are extensive. The year to date has been the 19th driest on record for the county, with precipitation 9.32 inches below normal.
PG&E offers the following advice for preparing for PSPS events:
-Make your own ice ahead of time. Freeze containers of water to keep food cold while power is off.
-Before the outage begins, set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings until power is restored.
-Use coolers to keep food cold while power is off.
-Limit opening refrigerator and freezer doors. When power is off, food can be kept cold for up to four hours in refrigerators and up to 48 hours in freezers.
-Buy shelf stable foods.
-Have a backup key to replace electronic keys and locks (which need power to operate).
-Turn off/unplug electrical appliances or equipment, like TVs and computers, that may spark or surge when power returns.
-Buy a battery-powered or crank radio.
-Download or print documents you may need.
-Locate free wi-fi locations in nearby areas.
-Invest in portable mobile and laptop battery chargers.
-Charge cell phones and backup chargers in advance.
-Stock up on batteries for items you rely on.
-Consider purchasing battery-powered LED lights or solar lanterns.
-Consider any needs for pets.
-Keep cash on hand and fill up gas tanks. Local ATMs and gas stations may close during an outage.
-Leave a light on to alert you when power returns.
-Keep flashlights in reach.
-Practice opening garage doors manually.
-Make sure your Electric Vehicle’s battery is fully charged.
-Find space outside to use generators, camp stoves and charcoal grills.
-Write emergency numbers down somewhere accessible.
-Check on neighbors.
-Make sure backup power and generators are ready to safely operate.
-Stock up on first aid supplies.
-Stock prescription and non-prescription medications.
-Plan for medications that require refrigeration.
-Charge medical devices fully.
For tips on preparing for wildfire, visit readyforwildfire.org.
To sign up for the county’s emergency notification program, visit oes.calaverasgov.us/Notifications.