Hundreds of thousands of Californians without electricity as wildfire threat ramps up again

SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began shutting off electricity Wednesday to 375,000 people in Northern and central California to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires as the region faced a new bout of windy and warm weather.

Some people in the wine country counties of Napa and Sonoma north of San Francisco lost power at about 7 a.m. Power was also cut farther north in portions of Mendocino, Lake and Yolo counties, said Katie Allen, a PG&E spokeswoman.

Nearly 170,000 initially lost electricity, but the shut-offs that started Wednesday morning were expected to affect more people as the outages spread to 18 counties and last into Thursday.

A virtually rainless fall has left brush bone-dry and forecasts called for low humidity and winds gusting at times to 55 mph (89 kph), which might fling tree branches or other debris into power lines, causing sparks that could set catastrophic fires in the region, PG&E officials said.

One Napa County reporting station hasn’t seen a measurable drop of rain since mid-September — the first time that’s happened since 1905, said Scott Strenfel, PG&E’s principal meteorologist.

The northern Sierra Nevada has seen a fraction of an inch of rain in the past two months instead of the usual 5 inches (13 cm), he said.

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