A man who was dependent on oxygen died about 12 minutes after Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the largest power suppliers across the country, shut down power in the Northern California area as part of an effort to prevent fires, fire officials said.
El Dorado County Fire Chief Lloyd Ogan said on Friday that a call came in from Pollock Pines around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Fire crews found an unresponsive man in his 60s at the location and could not revive him.
Ogan said that the man’s oxygen equipment needed power, but could not confirm whether the planned power outage was related to his death.
PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said it has not been able to confirm the accuracy of the report.
The utility company announced that it was shutting off power, starting around midnight on Wednesday, to about 800,000 customers in 34 northern, central, and coastal California counties ahead of strong, dry winds in the region.
The pre-emptive outage aimed at reducing the chance of tower lines being toppled by trees in the heat and sparking a wildfire—and avoiding a repeat of last year, where California wildfires killed 86 people.
The winds will be the strongest and most widespread the region has seen in two years, and given the scope of the danger, there was no other choice but to stage the largest preventive blackout in state history, PG&E said earlier.
“This is a last resort,” said Sumeet Singh, head of the utility’s Community Wildfire Safety Program.
By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of those affected, and about 312,000 people remained without electricity.
Despite the measures, localized fires broke out as hot, windy conditions spread south toward Los Angeles, taking out thousands of acres.
The fire, known as the Saddleridge fire, started along the northern portion of the San Fernando Valley, reported USA Today.
“This is a very dynamic fire,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, adding that the fire is consuming 800 acres per hour.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said at a press conference that more than 23,000 homes are under an evacuation order, affecting 100,000 people.
“We need people to leave now while they can,” fire officials warned on Friday morning. “If you stay in [mandatory evacuation] areas we cannot guarantee that we will save you.”
The Associated Press and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.