Power outages planned as part of an effort to limit the risk of fast-moving wildfires went in effect Thursday for thousands of Southern California residents.
SoCal Edison cut power to about 4,700 customers at about midday. By early afternoon, power shutoffs were affecting 12,900 customers in Kern, Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, according to the utility.
The utility had warned earlier this week that the outages were possible ahead of powerful Santa Ana winds expected to sweep across the region.
Customers in the LADWP service area will not face power shutoffs, the agency said in a statement Thursday. The LADWP does not shut off power due to strong winds, in part because the highly urbanized area has fewer wildfire prone areas.
Critical fire weather conditions are expected through Friday. A red flag fire weather warning covers the Santa Monica Mountain Recreational Area, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys, Los Angeles, including the coast, metropolitan LA, downtown LA and the Hollywood Hills, and much of Ventura county.
"We have some high risk areas — Malibu, La Cañada Flintridge as well as Santa Clarita," Kenneth Lee, LA County Fire specialist said.
The strongest winds were expected from mid-morning to mid-afternoon Thursday, and again Friday morning. Humidity levels of 3-10 percent are in the forecast and very dry vegetation will provide potential wildfire fuel.
A small brush fire broke out early Thursday in the Sepulveda Basin area in Van Nuys. It was not immediately clear how the fire started, but a brush fire during a hot and dry summer day began in a homeless encampment.
"The air is dry and so is the brush," said NBC4 forecaster Shanna Mendiola. "Once we see the winds get going, we'll be in even more trouble."
Gusts will be up to 60 mph in canyons and passes.
Santa Ana winds, produced by surface high pressure over the Great Basin squeezing air down through canyons and passes in Southern California's mountain ranges, are common in the fall and have a long history of fanning destructive wildfires in the region.
"It can get really hardcore," Cat Rhodes, a Santa Clarita resident, said about the winds. "It can actually like push you while you’re walking," .
Southern California Edison alerted customers that they could cut the power to avoid having knocked-over power lines start wildfires. The news still comes as a shock for some.
"I literally just went grocery shopping yesterday and spent $200 on all of my groceries and if the power goes out, that’s not good," Sandra Johnson, a Santa Clarita resident and mother of four said.
People are also warned that traffic lights could be out and to stock up on essentials, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
LA County Fire said they’ve staffed up, strategically placing strike teams in certain zones and cities that are at high risk for wildfires.
Fillmore Unified School District in Ventura County will be closed Thursday and Friday due to the public safety power shutoffs. California State University San Bernardino said all classes were called off at the San Bernardino campus due to the possible power shutoff.
In the San Francisco Bay area, a wildfire forced evacuations near the St. Mary's Colelge campus early Thursday. The community in Contra Costa County is part of Pacific Gas and Electric's ongoing and widespread pre-emptive electricity shutdowns.
The state's largest utility cut power to prevent a repeat of the past two years when wind-blown power lines sparked deadly wildfires that devastated Bay Area and Northern California communities.
Overall, about 734,000 customers and as many as 2 million people could be affected in the PG&E service area.