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Power cuts in California as wind raises fire risk

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The largest utility in Southern California began shutting off power in the mountains near Los Angeles as strong winds raised wildfire danger, marking the second year in a row that parts of the region will spend Thanksgiving in the dark.

Edison International’s Southern California utility cut off electricity to 6 739 homes and businesses in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties Wednesday to avoid having live wires spark blazes as a wind storm bore down on the drought-stricken region. By Thursday, more than 233 600 customer accounts – or about 700 800 people – could lose service in the regions around Los Angeles and San Diego.

Power companies in California have taken to switching off electric lines in advance of powerful winds after a series of deadly wildfires were sparked by their equipment. It’s just one of the ways in which years of drought are reshaping life in the Golden State, home to about 40 million people. Last year, Southern California Edison cut power to more than 20 600 homes and businesses on Thanksgiving Day, at a time when many people were sheltering at home due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Dry winds swept Southern California starting Wednesday and are expected to continue through Friday, raising the risk of dangerous fire conditions, the National Weather Service said. A red-flag fire warning has been posted from Santa Barbara to the border with Mexico from Wednesday through the day on Friday, and the US Storm Prediction Center forecasts the situation will reach critical levels Wednesday and Thursday. Any fire that starts could spread quickly.

“You can do your part by staying informed and being ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, especially if you live in canyon, mountain or foothill communities,” said Kevin McGowan, director of Los Angeles County’s Office of Emergency Management, in a press release Wednesday.

Edison warned that more than 180,400 homes and businesses could lose electricity, while Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric could switch off power to more than 53,200. Service will be restored after the companies survey their power lines for wind damage. 

Across California, 8,367 fires have charred nearly 1.3 million hectares of state and federal land this year, burning more than 3,600 buildings and killing three people, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire risk is made worse because all of the state is currently gripped by drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. 

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