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Utility wildfire prevention plans call for more blackouts

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — California utilities plan to continue shutting off power to customers during dry and windy conditions to prevent sparking deadly wildfires, but they aim to make outages more targeted to avoid widespread blackouts, according to plans filed Friday with the state.

Plans by the state's three largest investor-owned utilities said wildfire mitigation plans would build on efforts made last year to reduce the risk their equipment would cause deadly infernos.

The thrust of the plans is to expand vegetation trimming that can cause a fire when it strikes electrical equipment and fortify power lines to make them less likely to throw sparks or become vulnerable to fire damage.

The proposed plans filed with the California Public Utilities Commission were required by the state after a series of catastrophic fires blamed on utilities, including two in 2018 that killed more than 85 people and destroyed about 20,000 homes.

Work proposed under the wildfire mitigation plans should help decrease the need for power outages over time, but they will remain a necessity in extreme fire danger.

Utilities plan to better isolate which circuits need to be shut off for safety, which should prevent having to turn off the lights on larger swaths of customers.

Fire conditions last fall led utilities to cut power to millions of customers, creating headaches that extended well beyond areas that were at risk of burning. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was heavily criticized for not taking a more targeted approach.

PG&E said in a news release that outages would be “smaller in scope and shorter in duration” and it would lessen “overall impacts of shutoffs while working to keep customers and communities safe during times of severe weather and high wildfire risk.”

Southern California Edison said it will also apply new technology to identify problems before a fire is ignited or when power lines get knocked down.

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