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PG&E shuts off power to customers due to high winds, wildfire risk

Angel Russell/KCBX
During the power shutoffs, 'community resource centers' are open at the Grover Beach Community Center (shown here) and First Christian Church in Santa Maria.

Strong, damaging winds have prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to shut off electricity for parts of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and CalFire SLO said extra crews are on standby with an increased risk of wildfires breaking out. PG&E rolled out 'Power Safety Shut Offs' to customers in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties Tuesday morning, with a potential for more shut offs to occur through Wednesday evening.

Mark Mesesan with PG&E said turning off electricity is not a decision the company takes lightly, but does so for public safety.

“High winds can cause tree branches or debris to contact our energized electric lines," Mesesan said. "That can damage our equipment and cause major wildfires.”

For those affected by the power shutoffs, PG&E has set up resource centers at First Christian Church in Santa Maria, and Grover Beach Community Center, where people can access wifi, restrooms and other amenities.

“We understand power shut offs impact all customers," Mesesan said. 

Due to the unusual intense high-wind event underway, Adan Orozco with CalFire SLO says extra crews have been staffed.

“We’ve seen this kind of weather pattern late in December over the last few years, but to have it in January is a unique thing," Orozco said. "Normally, January and February are kind of our times to regroup and prepare for our next fire season, but this year we are still going.”

Orozco warns that with these gusty winds, it’s not only the fire potential people should be concerned about, but about tree limbs snapping off.

In past hazardous wind events, Orozco said CalFire has had to assist people on hiking trails who have been struck by fallen limbs. 

“[For hikers] taking breaks under trees, they really need to look up into the tree and see if there are any broken branches in that tree before they decide to hang out there for a while," Orozco said.

The powerful winds are forecasted to continue through Wednesday.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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