Parched California braces for fires, blackouts

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California utilities are warning that they may need to cut power to almost 280 000 homes and businesses to prevent live wires from sparking wildfires as high winds are expected to sweep through the drought-weary state.

Edison International’s Southern California Edison said 256 000 customers in six counties near Los Angeles face blackouts within 48 hours due to a forecast of a strong Santa Ana wind event. The utility had switched off almost 2 000 customers, mostly in Ventura County, late Saturday, according to Southern California Edison’s website.

PG&E Corp. warned that it may need to cut service starting Monday to about 22 000 customers living in the southern part of the state’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills.

During a regular winter, public safety power shutoffs “would not be under consideration, but this winter has been anything but normal,” PG&E meteorologists said on the utility’s website. Only 22% of the average rainfall this winter has fallen in the southern Sierra, they said.

Red flag warnings circle the mountains and valleys around Los Angeles, and near-hurricane force winds are forecast to hit the area starting Monday night, the National Weather Service said. While the winter months usually mark California’s rainy season, much of the state remains gripped by drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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