Precautionary blackouts around the state may reach into Kern County in the coming days for the first time since a statewide program was implemented last year to reduce wildfires.
Up to 42,374 Pacific Gas & Electric customers could see their power cut Wednesday and into Thursday in areas that include Bakersfield, Arvin, Buttonwillow, Dustin Acres, Edison, Fellows, Lamont, Lebec, Maricopa, McFarland, McKittrick, Mettler Station, Shafter, Taft, Tehachapi, Tupman, Valley Acres and Wasco. PG&E said it sent notifications to residents who could be affected.
Another 12,000 Southern California Edison customers in Tehachapi and unincorporated areas in the Kern River Valley and Lebec could lose service, SCE said on its website. Those areas include: Kernville, Wofford Heights, Lake Isabella, Camp Owens, south of Tehachapi, Bear Valley Springs, Stallion Springs, Keene, Golden Hills, Sand Canyon, Alpine Forest, Manolith, Weldon, Bella Vista, near Antelope Valley, near Monolith, Onyx and Canebrake. SCE did not indicate a time frame for the potential blackouts.
Overall, nearly 800,000 PG&E customers in 34 counties are expected to be impacted by the winds.
Based on the large number of expected outages PG&E officials said it could take several days to restore power.
"It's an unprecedented weather pattern we're seeing coming through the state," said Katie Allen, a local PG&E spokeswoman. "We're expecting low humidity with strong winds and that's why we are potentially going to call a PSPS even in Kern County."
The National Weather Service in Hanford issued a high wind watch for the Kern County Mountains and desert areas from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. Wednesday. It said to expect sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts up 60 mph in those areas.
In Bakersfield the forecast calls for winds to pick up Wednesday afternoon, with gusts as high as 20 mph, and continuing overnight and throughout the day Thursday.
PGE officials said late Tuesday evening that Santa Ana winds were expected in the Tehachapi area from Thursday to Friday morning, potentially forcing a shutoff in Bakersfield.
"It's important to remember that some of our customers may experience a power shutoff even though the weather conditions in their specific location are not extreme," said PG&E Vice President Sumeet Singh. "The reason this happens is the interconnected nature of our electrical grid."
Red Flag warnings, the highest alert for weather conditions that can fuel a fast-moving fire, are in effect in the Bay Area and from Ventura to San Diego.
"Since this potential public safety power shutoff could effect a large portion of Kern County, we’re asking all residents to be prepared," said a post on the Kern County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.
The post urged residents to ensure they have half a tank of fuel in their vehicle and three days of food and water on hand for each member of the household and to consider medication storage requirements, plan for pets, check on neighbors, have a weather radio and batteries and have a family plan in place for what to do in case of emergency.
People who have a medical device that would immediately affect their health if power is cut can contact Aging & Adult Services at 855-264-6565 or Community Action Partnership at 211 for assistance, the post said.
PG&E has had six Public Safety Power Shutdown activations since the program started in 2018, not including this week's possible event, which could be its largest to date.
PSPS events are called when low humidity, strong winds and critically dry vegetation cause a high threat of fire.
PG&E's website was not accessible and phone lines were swamped Tuesday, and the company posted a message on Facebook around noon saying it was experiencing a high volume of traffic to the website and call centers.
"We know how much our customers rely on electric service and that there are safety risks on both sides," PG&E's Allen said. "We understand and appreciate that turning off the power affects first responders and the operation of critical facilities, communications systems and much more."