Controlled California outages loom as PG&E settles cases

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric may cut power to try to head off wildfires as fall arrives in California and brings with it the most dangerous fire conditions that over the past two years have produced the deadliest and most destructive blazes in state history.

The San Francisco utility will make the decision before noon Monday on whether the controlled power outages are needed to reduce the risk of wildfires. The outages in nine northern counties would begin later in the day.

The areas potentially impacted include portions of Butte, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sutter and Yuba counties in the Sierra foothills and Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties in the northern San Francisco Bay Area.

An estimated 124,000 people would be affected.

Strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures are forecast for Northern California Monday through Wednesday and authorities issued an extreme fire danger warning for some areas.

Wind gusts could reach 50 mph (80 kmph) in the northern Sierra and foothills, and between 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) in the Sacramento valley and near the Pacific coast.

Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies holding 85% of the insurance claims from fires that include the November 2018 blaze that destroyed the town of Paradise, killing 86 people.

The settlement does not include thousands of uninsured and underinsured fire victims who have filed their own claims against PG&E, including for wrongful deaths.

It is important for PG&E to pull itself from under bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a state wildfire fund set up to help California's major utilities pay out future claims as climate change makes wildfires across the U.S. West more frequent and severe

The utility sought bankruptcy protection in January because it said it could not afford an estimated $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from the catastrophic wildfires.

The settlement confirmed Monday is subject to bankruptcy court approval.

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