Powerline investigated as possible source of Saddle Ridge Fire

Above: 3-D map of the Saddle Ridge Fire at 12:27 a.m. PDT October 13, 2019.

Fire investigators are looking at a power line as a possible ignition point for the Saddle Ridge Fire that burned 7,965 acres and 21 structures on the north side of Los Angeles. (see map above) At least two residents of Sylmar said they first saw the fire at the base of a transmission tower. Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said Friday night that he was aware of those reports, and, “We believe that witness, and someone else who said something similar.” The Southern California Edison power line had not been shut off during the Santa Ana wind event.

All of the evacuation orders have been lifted that earlier affected about 100,000 residents.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Saddle Ridge Fire, click here.)

The strong north to northeast Santa Ana wind event that caused the fire to spread seven miles, from Sylmar to Granda Hills and almost to Chatsworth, has come to a close. The area is now experiencing typical on shore flows, bringing higher humidity and lower temperatures.

One person died during the fire. Authorities said Aiman Elsabbagh, 54, suffered a heart attack while trying to protect his home with a garden hose and passed away later in a hospital.

Map Saddle Ridge Fire
Map of the Saddle Ridge Fire at 12:27 a.m. PDT October 13, 2019.

Update on fire-related power shutoffs in California

UPDATED at 12:22 p.m. PDT October 10, 2019

Recently updated information about Pacific Gas and Electric’s preemptive power shutoff for much of Northern California includes additional locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the north coast near Eureka (see map above). This brings the total number of PG&E addresses affected to 800,000, which could translate to approximately two to four million residents.

PG&E power shutoffs California
PG&E power shutoffs in Northern California, October 10, 2019.

Below is a zoomed-in map showing the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

PG&E power shutoffs California
PG&E power shutoffs in the Bay Area of California, October 10, 2019.

According to PG&E they have been turning off the power during periods of high wildfire danger since 2013, never before at this magnitude.


San Diego Gas and Electric was one of the pioneers in turning off the power to their customers when the wind blows and has been doing it  for years.

“Moderate Santa Ana winds are expected to sweep through our region starting Thursday and peak on Friday morning, bringing elevated wildfire danger to the backcountry and the potential for Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” SDG&E said in a press release.

About  34,000 SDG&E customers have been notified their electricity may be turned off (see map below).

SDG&E turn off power wind
SDG&E says the areas in yellow could experience public safety power outages during the wind event that will hit San Diego County Thursday and Friday. (SDG&E map updated October 9, 2019.)

And in the Los Angeles area:

The fire danger in Northern California is expected to decrease on Friday but remain elevated in the south part  of the state.

Predicted fire weather for October 10, 2019
Predicted fire weather for Thursday October 10, 2019.
Predicted fire weather for October 11, 2019
Predicted fire weather for October 11, 2019.

What happens when a power company decides to turn off the electricity for millions of residents?

The preemptive power shutoff for 800,000 addresses by Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California is directly affecting approximately two to four million residents. The power company took this action to prevent their feeble power line system from starting fires during this period of strong winds. Farther south in California, San Diego Gas and Electric has warned residents living at 30,000 addresses that their power could also be turned off this week.

The indirect effects of having no electricity expand to a much larger  population when you consider traffic lights not working, tunnels on highways being shut down, plus the closure of gas stations, schools, and businesses. At some point cellular telephone towers and infrastructure may exhaust their emergency power supply systems, not to mention the batteries in the public’s cell phones.

Firefighters’ communications could be hampered by the disabling of their radio repeaters on mountain tops. Notifying residents of approaching fires and conducting evacuations in order to save lives could be challenging.

All that is the assessment of someone hundreds of miles away. For the thoughts of a person much closer to what is actually happening on the ground, we turn to Rob Carlmark, a meteorologist for ABC10 in Sacramento, who is surrounded by areas affected by PG&E’s power shutoff. Here, with his permission, are samples of what he has been writing on his Twitter account, @rcarlmark:


10:25 a.m. October 9, 2019

So here is what’s happening on the ground in California for the fire weather story. It’s genuinely freaking everybody out. If we get ZERO fires out of this (small miracle) the power shut off will be remembered for a long time. #MorningBlend10

Rob Carlmark
Rob Carlmark photo.

Despite the pretty large media effort by PG&E to warn people of the power outages…many people we are talking to at closed gas stations had no idea. Turns out not everyone…especially in rural areas look at the internet all day. Some of these folks were BLINDSIDED. We have to take them at their word because they are far away from the windiest areas affecting lines or COULD affect lines. Many work far away, and fuel up often. If you are at a gas station…let’s face it you NEED gas and maybe can’t drive 15-20 miles away to get it…or wait in long lines to get gas. They also have an unexpected day off work…maybe cancelled school..kid/kids to pick up and figure out what to do for DAYS with no power. Of course the alternative is having power on…and a well known source for fires active.

This is a tough spot to be in for 100,000s of customers which likely includes million+total in actual population if you extrapolate for households etc.

They are not going to reimburse people for spoiled food since it was planned. If an outage was caused by an extreme event and weather they might…case by case basis.

Also remember a lot of these people just got hit with a non-renewal for home insurance and if they found someone…it costs drastically more. Also remember that many of these people are actively trying to move…sell their home…can’t find insurance for new buyer or are dropping their prices all the time. This is the APEX of stress in some of the most beautiful places you ever could live.

We need to add more places… the Bay area is about to find out today if one of the major tunnels…MAJOR…will have to shut down for power outages at noon. Traffic there is a true daily horror show…and if you find this out…at work you are going to freak.

We haven’t even talked about Southern California…they too will experience massive outage issues potentially…STRONGER winds and LOWER humidity.

WE HAVEN’T EVEN HAD A FIRE YET! If that happens…which the odds are fairly high…it immediately turns into a dangerous life-threatening event with little info, or ways to get info (no power…no gas).

Finally…peak wind will be middle of the night [Wednesday night/early Thursday]. It’s not just about power…there are DOZENS of ways fires start and any fluke accident could set up many communities for a dangerous moment.

If we can get through this…the power might not come back on for a few DAYS in some areas after the fact (no strong winds) while they inspect lines. fire or not this story will continue for many days more.


4:19 a.m. PDT October 10:

Update from what’s going on in California with this fire weather/power outage emergency. We are right in the thick of it and it’s not over yet.

We had a VERY close call in a town called Moraga near the Bay Area overnight. Fire broke out near a nice suburb surrounded by open land…a true urban/wildland interface situation. It was dicey, scary and in the middle of the night…gusts were 35mph+ nearby and evacuations were door to door with no cell service and power shut off.  By the hard work of firefighters and perhaps the advantage of having roads and access the fire is mostly contained and a nightmare scenario has been avoided…for now.

From what we can tell this is an area with a planned power outage and it’s a reminder that a fire can start form dozens of different ways…not just power arcs. We don’t know cause, but since the power was shut off there it’s worth exploring other causes

Supplies are running really low in power outage areas…water, flashlights, generators etc. have been in short supply like a true disaster emergency situation.

Easily the biggest complaint is “It’s not windy at my house…the power should be back on” Gusts near the dams/hydropower/transmission lines though are VERY strong up to 52 mph so upstream impacts are creating downstream confusion

Observed wind speeds in California
Observed wind speeds in California early Thursday morning. Rob Carlmark.

In short…it’s ongoing…people are on edge…every stoplight is a four way stop with traffic issues…people have NO idea when power is coming back…it’s a big deal that is getting bigger today.

I do see the weather changing tonight for many…less wind but still dry so there is an end to this in the weather world…but the power thing…it’s going to be some time.

Power company may turn off electricity to 30,000 addresses in Southern California during wind event

SDG&E may suspend electrical service to some customers this week

SDG&E turn off power wind
SDG&E says the areas in yellow could experience public safety power outages during the wind event that will hit San Diego County on Thursday and Friday.(SDG&E map)

Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California is not the only power company with plans to turn off the electricity to their customers. San Diego Gas and Electric said they may suspend electrical service to about 30,000 addresses during the wind event on Thursday and Friday of this week. Thinking that their power line infrastructure may not be robust enough to withstand the wind, they want to reduce their liability by de-energizing the power lines, rather than fully hardening their electrical distribution system.

SDG&E was one of the pioneers in turning off the power to their customers when the wind blows and has been doing it  for years. They floated the idea in July, 2009 after their power lines started three massive fires in 2007 , the Witch Creek, Guejito, and Rice Canyon Fires, that burned more than 198,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,500 homes, injured 40 firefighters, and caused two deaths.  The company figured up to 150,000 people could be affected by a proactive power outage in 2009.

SDG&E has been trying for the last 7 years to get their customers to pay $379 million the company incurred in claims from the deadly 2007 fires. They took litigation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled against them on October 7, 2019. After the verdict the company wrote in a news release,  “SDG&E has shown that the fires occurred due to circumstances beyond our control, but nevertheless the application to spread the costs through rates was denied.”

To be fair, SDG&E has taken steps to reduce the chances their power lines will start a fire during strong winds, such as replacing some wooden poles with metal poles. They have also put systems in place to deal with a fire before and after it starts, including making a large firefighting helicopter available beginning in 2010, hiring contract firefighters during extreme fire weather, and installing more than 100 weather stations on their power lines around Southern California.

PG&E plans to turn off power to 600,000 addresses to prevent wildfires

This is a response to a forecast for strong winds and Red Flag Warning conditions

PG&E power turn off
Areas in which PG&E expects they will turn off the power Wednesday morning, October 9, 2019.

Pacific Gas and Electric is notifying customers at 600,000 addresses that their electricity will be turned off as a proactive response to a forecast for enhanced wildfire danger. The plan is to throw the switches at 4 a.m. October 9 which could affect millions of people in nearly 30 northern, central, coastal, and Bay Area counties. Based on the latest weather forecasts and models, PG&E anticipates the period of peak winds will occur from early Wednesday morning through midday Thursday. (UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon PG&E raised the number of addresses that will have their power shut off to 800,000)

Since the company’s power lines have caused numerous wildfires in recent years, especially during windy conditions, they have decided to turn off the  power during periods of high fire danger rather than harden their infrastructure to  make it resistant to strong winds.

The weather forecast for some of the areas identified as part of this “Public Safety Power Shutoff” predicts humidity in the teens and north to northeast winds of 15 to 25 mph gusting at 40 to 50 mph beginning late Tuesday night and lasting into Thursday.

PG&E is asking customers to:

  • Update their contact information at pge.com/mywildfirealerts or by calling 1-866-743-6589 during normal business hours. PG&E will use this information to alert customers through automated calls, texts, and emails, when possible, prior to, and during, a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
  • Plan for medical needs like medications that require refrigeration or devices that need power.
  • Identify backup charging methods for phones and keep hard copies of emergency numbers.
  • Build or restock your emergency kit with flashlights, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash.
  • Keep in mind family members who are elderly, younger children and pets. Information and tips including a safety plan checklist are available at pge.com/wildfiresafety.

Generators causing fires during planned power shutoffs

Some power companies in California are turning off the electricity during periods of high wildfire danger to prevent fires

Generator Fire power outage PG&E
One of the generators that caught fire during PG&E’s planned power outage. Screenshot from video below.

In what Pacific Gas and Electric calls a “Public Safety Power Shutoff”, the company turned off the power to 48,000 customers Tuesday and Wednesday in the Sierra foothills of California.

Following many fires created by their electrical equipment, PG&E began the program to prevent additional fires.  Some residents are using generators when they lose their power to pump water and to keep medical equipment and refrigerators running, but on Tuesday and Wednesday three fires in Nevada County were caused by generators.

PG&E and other companies, including San Diego Gas & Electric, have opted to turn off power to their customers during periods of high fire danger rather than harden their infrastructure to prevent failures that start fires.