Saturday Mid-Day Update: Historic Fires Cover the West

by | Sep 12, 2020

UPDATE9/12/2020 — 12noon

Wildfires are burning across the West, but cooler weather may be offering some hope in the coming days.  Also, just announced, President Trump will visit Sacramento on Monday (9/14) for a briefing on the California wildfires.

According the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the combined firefighting force across the West is more than 29,000 currently on the front lines of these fires.  Across the West, thousands of homes and other structures have been lost and regrettably, 26 lives so far.  NIFC also reported that evacuations are active in 6 States across the West due to the massive fires.

In California, these are our current numbers as of 12 noon 9/12:

30 Major Active Fires (26 in Northern California and 4 in Southern California)

The August Complex Fire is now the Largest Fire in State History at nearly 847,000 Acres and only 25% Contained (by comparison, the second largest in state history, the Mendocino Complex Fire of 2018, was 460,000 Acres)

More than 3.3 Million Acres Burned (more than 5,150 square miles — )

7,718 Fires Year to Date

20 Fatalities Confirmed Fatalities

6,334 Structures Structures Damaged or Destroyed

Healthy Air Indexes across the West have recorded record breaking hazardous conditions in many cities across California, Oregon and Washington State.

UPDATE 9/10/2020 — 6 p.m.

California is not the only State in the West dealing with power outages and fires.  The National Guard and the US Department of Forestry are assisting California and 9 other States with similar problems.  Healthy air indexes are at historic highs in many of the West’s cities — large and small — because there is that much ash floating around.

These are the latest statistics from CalFire as of 6pm (9/10):

3,102,184 Acres Burned (4,847.1625 square miles)

7,694 Fires Year to Date

12 Fatalities Confirmed Fatalities

5,875 Structures Structures Damaged or Destroyed

Are there any good news to report?  PG&E said earlier today that they had restored 97% of the PSPS outages — roughly 4,500 customers remained without power as of 5pm — but PG&E is hoping to restore service to those customers sometime tonight.

On the fire lines, nearly 14,000 brave firefighters are hard at work.  The entire West is cheering for them and praying for their safety.

UPDATE 9/9/2020 — 730 p.m.

More bad news this afternoon as California’s record-setting fire season has gotten worse.  According to CalFire, more than two dozen fires forced thousands of residents from their homes as a massive new fire quickly burned more than 250,000 acres near Oroville.

All of this is occurring as PG&E was in the process of restoring power from the PSPS event that blacked out nearly 200,000 utility customers.

During his noon press conference, Governor Gavin Newsom said there were more than 14,000 firefighters are currently deployed trying to contain the wildfires in California.  Most of the State is under a red flag warning and strong winds in the  are fueling the flames.

CalFire reported that more than 2.2 million acres have now burned — that’s 3,437.5 square miles.  By comparison, that is roughly the total square miles of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

As of this update, PG&E says they have restored power to 60,000 of the nearly 200,000 customers that were part of the PSPS event.  PG&E is hoping to restore power to the remaining customers as conditions permit.

Given the new fires, it is likely more PSPS’ will be called.

UPDATE 9/8/2020 — 6 p.m.

As we have been reporting, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) confirmed that customers in the Sierra Foothills, Northern Sierra and elevated North Bay terrain who were notified of an impending Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) are now without power.

From the PG&E Press Release:

“The PSPS event is affecting approximately 172,000 customers in 22 counties: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yuba. The process to turn off power to these counties was completed between approximately 9 p.m. Monday evening and 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. Power will be shut off in Kern County at approximately 2 p.m. Tuesday.”

As described during their press conference, once the weather subsides and it is safe to do so, PG&E crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers. In the area impacted by the PSPS, PG&E will need to conduct safety inspections of approximately 10,625 miles of transmission and distribution lines.

Restoration activities can only take place during daylight hours, so it’s likely that some customers may not be restored until 9:00 p.m. Wednesday evening.

From the SDG&E Press Release:

“Due to elevated fire weather conditions and forecasted Santa Ana winds, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has notified backcountry residents that it may have to turn off power to reduce wildfire risk in the coming days. Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) are approved by state regulators as an important safety tool of last resort to mitigate fire risk during dangerous weather conditions.”  

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning from 12 p.m. today through 8 p.m. Wednesday for inland Orange County and San Diego County valleys and mountains. Moderate strength Santa Ana winds are expected to arrive today, peak Wednesday in strength, and become weak to moderate through Thursday.

Yesterday, SDG&E sent PSPS notifications to approximately 16,700 customers at risk of Public Safety Power Shutoffs via phone, text messages and email. Customers who were notified should be prepared to be without power through Thursday, depending on SDG&E’s need and ability to physically inspect equipment during daylight hours prior to re-energizing.

Southern California Edison (SCE) has not issued any statements yet, but if the Santa Ana winds kick up, it might just be a matter for time before SCE begins planning for a PSPS.

UPDATE 9/7/2020 — 645 p.m.

The heatwave and the wind events have driven PG&E to make the hard decision to declare Public Power Safety Shutoffs (PSPS).

The following is wat is public on PG&E’s site:

“We are monitoring the weather. The current forecast indicates power may be turned off for safety in the next 1-2 days. For translated support in over 200 additional languages, please contact PG&E at 1-833-208-4168.”

The de-energization will begin later this evening (Monday 9/7) and continue through out tomorrow (Tuesday 9/8).  In a press conference that was held this evening, PG&E said they are anticipating re-energizing beginning on Wednesday morning (9/10).

Lat yesterday (9/6), PG&E said they anticipated the PSPS, if called could impact the following counties:  El Dorado, Placer, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Yuba, Sonoma, Tehama, Tuolumne, Kern and Humboldt.

PG&E posted an interactive map that outlines who is impacted and when the outages are expected to begin.

PG&E is reacting to the National Weather Service warning that “critical fire weather conditions” will impact the PG&E service  territory through Wednesday, with winds gusting to 50 mph in the mountains and 35 mph at lower elevations.

GovReport will continue to update the situation.

UPDATE 9/7/2020 — 8 a.m.

The Golden State’s grid narrowly avoided rolling blackouts for a second time this year after consecutive days of hovering on the brink of power outages for hours.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which runs the grid, said it was lifted a Stage 2 — the last step before rolling blackouts are imposed.  On Sunday (9/6), CAISO said blackouts could have hit up to 3 million households in one of the largest blackouts in California history.

Unfortunately, the crisis at this time is far from over.  The heatwave is expected to continue beyond Monday.  In addition, forecasts of gusting winds has prompted PG&E Corp. (PG&E) to warn it could shut off power in parts of its service territory Monday evening to reduce the risk of sparking a wildfire.

In addition to these problems, Governor Newsom’s Office announced that the new and fast moving Creek Fire in the San Joaquin Valley forced the closure of a 915-megawatt hydro power station.  CAISO added that other wildfires also knocked about 700 megawatts worth of solar generation, due to the smoke cover and ash.

PG&E PSPS?

According to a PG&E press release, a potential Power Safety Power Shut-off (PSPS) is possible for Monday (9/7) evening to parts of the following counties:  El Dorado, Placer, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Yuba, Sonoma, Tehama, Tuolumne, Kern and Humboldt.

The National Weather Service warned of “critical fire weather conditions” through Wednesday, with winds gusting to 50 mph in the mountains and 35 mph at lower elevations.

If activated, the PSPS event would be the first imposed by PG&E for wildfire safety since last October.

UPDATE 9/4/2020 — 8 a.m.

In addition to the Flex Alert issued by the California Independent System Operator, Governor Gavin Newsom has also declared a State of Emergency for this weekend, specifically identifying the expected heatwave across the state and threat of potential blackouts.

9/3/2020 — 6 p.m.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has issued a statewide Flex Alert, a call for voluntary electricity conservation, beginning Saturday (9/5/2020) and extending through Monday (9/7/2020), from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

According the CAISO, Labor Day weekend temperatures are forecast 10-20 degrees above normal for California, and the power grid operator is predicting an increase in electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use.  Overnight temperatures statewide are projected to be at least 10 degrees higher than normal, which doesn’t allow infrastructure to cool
down.

High heat is also predicted throughout the West for the weekend, which can limit the CAISO’s ability to import energy to serve demand, as the rest of the West is likely to experience the same increase in temperatures.

The anticipated events of this coming weekend are similar to what was experienced during the heat wave of August 14-18.

This next event is the second test of the grid in less than a month.  GovReport will be monitoring conditions and will update our readers as more information becomes available.

Jesus Arredondo

Jesus Arredondo

Jesus Arredondo is an Energy Industry Analyst and former State of California official.
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