PG&E power shutoff could impact Mariposa County, Valley as dry winds pose fire threat

Dry and windy weather with gusts up to 35 mph are expected to hit the Valley on Saturday, bringing in wildfire smoke and prompting Pacific Gas & Electric to warn of widespread power shutoffs in several local counties, officials said.

PG&E’s power shutoff program, a preventative measure meant to reduce the risk of wildfires, may impact about 850,000 customers across California, and more than 30,000 people locally, according to a PG&E news release.

Valley communities that could be affected by the shutoff include Coulterville and Greeley Hill in Mariposa County, Linden in San Joaquin County, Knights Ferry, Oakdale, Patterson and Westley in Stanislaus County and the Tuolumne County communities of Big Oak Flat, Chinese camp, Columbia, Groveland, Jamestown, Long Barn, Mi Wuk Village, Pinecrest, Sonora, Soulsbyville, Strawberry and Twain Harte.

“PG&E has not determined whether to move forward with a shutoff, but will continue to monitor weather conditions and provide more definitive information on the potential timing and scale of shutoffs as weather models are updated,” according to the release.

The release states PG&E is expecting a dry, hot and windy weather event to sweep through the state Saturday and last through Monday. The power company is expecting winds between 45 to 60 mph, with peak gusts of up to 70 mph at higher elevations.

However, the National Weather Service in Hanford is predicting slightly milder conditions in Merced and the Central Valley.

A high pressure system that has led to recent unseasonably warm weather about 10 degrees higher than normal — will continue through Saturday accompanied by winds reaching speeds of up to 35 mph, NWS Hanford meteorologist Kevin Durfree said.

The winds may lead to falling dust across the Valley, especially on the western side, Durfree said. But it also is expected to carry smoke from the Kincaid wildfire in Sonoma County, sparking concerns about air quality.

But by Sunday afternoon, temperatures are expected to drastically drop to a high in the upper 60s and nightly lows at frost temperatures, as a cold, Canadian air mass settles in behind the high pressure system, Durfree said.

Residents in the communities affected communities are being urged to prepare for a shutoff possibly lasting more than two days as PG&E crews work to inspect de-energized lines and repair damage to the power system.

The shutoff is affecting at least one key health agency in the area. The Central California Alliance for Health’s Scotts Valley office in Monterey will likely be closed due to the shutdown, while its Merced and Salinas offices will remain open to take calls, according to a news release from the agency.

The shutoffs have sparked widespread criticism and memes on the state of PG&E and the power grid in California, especially after a reported electrical issue was reported close to the start of the Kincade wildfire.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday railed against the PG&E shutoffs as he announced a $75 million program to help California cities prepare for future blackouts.

Newsom called the blackouts the result of “years and years of greed ... management.” He also previously criticized PG&E after the power company stated it won’t reimburse residents for the shutoffs.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.