Once PG&E de-energizes the transmission line that supplies electricity to Manteca and much of the rest of San Joaquin County due to severe wildfire conditions elsewhere power will be out for a minimum of 48 hours.
That’s because before PG&E can re-energize the transmission lines and the rest of the grid it must be inspected. That process will take at least two days if not longer. Given the combination severe winds, and humidity that are the driving ingredients of creating severe wildfire hazards in impacted areas can last as long as three days, that is where the warning from PG&E that residents need to prepare for being without power for two to five days comes from.
PG&E has gotten the green light from the California Public Utilities this wildfire season to cut power on transmission lines that could leave cities more than 80 miles from areas experiencing severe wildfire conditions without electricity in order to reduce the potential for the utility’s equipment to spark fires such as the one last year in Butte County that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
The City of Manteca intends to press PG&E — even if it means pursing legal avenues — to obtain a clearer picture of what areas that are facing severe wildfire conditions would prompt the utility to de-energy transmission lines.
PG&E has indicated communities impacted by a decision to de-energize transmission lines would receive notification of hopefully at least several hours if not longer before the power is actually turned off.
City Manager Tim Ogden noted PG&E has steadfastly refused to say fire dangers in what areas would cause Manteca to go dark. City personnel in charge of preparing for the PG&E triggered local emergency have indicated if they have better knowledge of fire conditions in what specific areas would cause the loss of power locally they could be in a position to have personnel to deploy quicker and more effectively when PG&E actually pulls the plug on power.
If the city knew what areas the transmission line serves they could have key staff monitor conditions and prepare accordingly to prepare to implement a local emergency plan that is now being put together.
One example of how the city could better prepare if they knew where the impacted areas the line serves would be so they could have public works trucks preloaded with barricades that have stop signs and possible flashers that would have to be placed at the 50 plus intersections in Manteca controlled by traffic lights.
While some customers that have been pressing for more details erroneously believe PG&E can predict when they need to cut the power either days or weeks in advance that is not the case. It is driven by weather conditions, the dryness of vegetation and geographic concerns where ridges and such work in concert with high winds to make matters worse. PG&E last year turned off power to Calistoga in Napa County and parts of El Dorado County for one to three days. This year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports under the new PG&E operating procedures to reduce their wildfire exposure Calistoga could be without power 15 times if last year’s conditions were repeated this year. The biggest difference is the power shut-off this year will include transmission lines.
Ogden noted that when all city employees are hired they are deputized as emergency workers. That means the city will have roughly 250 people in addition to public safety personnel as well as trained volunteers such as the Community Emergency Response Team to call on when the power goes out. A number of those workers assigned to wastewater and water divisions will have to make sure both systems are operating plus make sure diesel generators that are attached to a number to city wells as backups have adequate fuel and are kept running.
The City Council will be updated when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., on the city’s emergency preparation for when PG&E cuts off power.
The fact wildfire season occurs when temperatures are hottest means emergency planners will be coming up with a strategy to deal with what could be a surge in heat related illnesses.
Unlike in normal heat waves when the mercury exceeds 100 degrees the city will have not have a cooling center available at the Manteca Senior Center since the power will be off.
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