Power Outages in Alameda County to Combat the Risk of Wildfires


Daniel McInnis, Staff Writer

It came as quite a shock to Amador students last week when PG&E warned people that they might turn off the power in areas around Alameda County due to the high winds and increased dryness of the grass this time of year. The power outages would help prevent wildfires from ravaging northern California as we have seen in years past.

The wind-driven fire danger was most likely fifty to a hundred miles away from the Tri-Valley area. Those in the know, including many utility workers, firefighters, and emergency managers understood that PG&E would take drastic action to ensure recently deadly fires would not occur again. 

“I think it was a good idea to shut off power, so there aren’t any catastrophes in the future,” said Sean Lee (‘21).

Two summers ago, a series of disastrous fires brought PG&E to the brink of bankruptcy due to lawsuits filed by insurance companies, private citizens, and cities. The fire in Paradise killed 85 residents.  Downed power lines were blamed for causing the fires.

PG&E power lines and unexpectedly high winds in high fire hazard zones are seen as a danger to many rural communities. One person who understands the ramifications of PG&E’s financial liability is Alex Schubeck, an Emergency Manager with the City of Fremont Fire Department. Alex Schubeck has the first-hand experience of the fires that devastated Paradise and Santa Rosa. 

“Most people will only be inconvenienced by power shut-down.  But those people with medical conditions—such as people on oxygen machines or other types of equipment that need electricity to function—may face difficulties that could be life-threatening. These cases would be rare since most have prepared for this type of power emergency with a generator, and in many health-care facilities such as hospitals and convalescent homes are required by law to have generators,” said Schubeck.

Since these cases are rare and isolated to hospitals and old folks homes, this will probably not affect many students at Amador. Most care homes have electrical generators required by California State law. 

“Fall in California is very dry and the grass burns quickly and ignites other fuels such as trees and, unfortunately, houses. PG&E lost their court cases and were made to pay damages of millions of dollars.  In order to protect themselves from liability, PG&E has decided to cut power to their power lines in rural communities where their “transmission” power lines cross through fields of grass, scrub, and forests. It is a precautionary measure,” said Schubek.

However inconvenient the power outage may be for families, companies, and schools, the overall purpose of the outage, to decrease the risk of wildfires, far outweighs the negatives.