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250,000 Bay Area customers on alert as utility may shut off power Wednesday

by Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle |

Winds are expected to pick up and turn toward the Northern California coast late Tuesday night, bringing cool, dry gusts that could spread fires and prompt preemptive power shut-offs of up to several days to more than a quarter-million Bay Area customers.

Officials in Oakland and Contra Costa County said Tuesday that the shut-offs could begin as early as midnight Wednesday, four hours earlier than Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s initial estimate of 4 a.m. The outages could affect a total of 1.8 million people, Oakland officials said.

Alameda County officials issued an advisory Tuesday morning that PG&E is expected to disconnect power to more than 35,000 residences and businesses for up to five days starting early Wednesday.

“We encourage you to find alternative energy sources for light, charging devices and other necessities,” official said. “Plan ahead with food and water, and make sure your grab-and-go emergency kits are ready.”

National Weather Service forecasters have issued red flag warnings for the East Bay and North Bay hills, as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. Depending on the location, the shut-offs will begin late Tuesday or early Wednesday and continue through at least Thursday afternoon.

Cool, dry winds are expected to increase 20 to 30 mph with gusts between 45 mph and 55 mph in the North Bay and East Bay hills — and even higher on North Bay peaks like Mount St. Helena.