Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Planned power outages to reduce the risk of wildfires in California could go on for a decade, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said as firefighters grew closer to containment in the Saddleridge Fire near Los Angeles.
Johnson made the comments Friday during an emergency meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E began carrying out power blackouts for hundreds of thousands of customer homes earlier this month amid high winds and dry conditions that could have damaged power lines and sparked wildfires.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection blamed electrical transmission lines owned by PG&E for the Camp Fire in 2018. The blaze was the most destructive and deadliest in California's history, killing 85 people.
Johnson later clarified his remarks.
"I didn't mean to say we'd be doing it on this scale for 10 years. I think they'll decrease in size and scope every year," he said.
Marybel Batjer, president of the CPUC, criticized PG&E for the power outages, saying the utility company didn't take adequate steps to protect customers. The planned outages caused residents to stand in long lines at grocery and hardware stores to stock up on ice, coolers and other necessities.
Schools and businesses shut down in the affected regions, hurting the economy. The outages cost the city of San Jose about half a million dollars.
"You guys failed on so many levels on pretty simple stuff," Batjer said.
Despite the power outages, the Saddleridge Fire sparked Oct. 10 in Southern California. Investigators haven't determined a cause for the blaze, but said it started in an area near a high-voltage transmission tower owned by Southern California Edison, which didn't carry out blackouts.
As of Saturday evening, the wildfire consumed 8,799 acres and was 72 percent contained, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
During evacuations, one civilian had a heart attack and died at the hospital. Eight first responders sustained injuries. The blaze destroyed 19 structures and damaged another 88.
The LAFD said low humidity and gusty winds over the next two days were expected to test the current containment.