Expert shares safety tips after generators spark 2 Bay Area fires amid power shutoffs

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Backup generators being used by Bay Area businesses and homeowners during PG&E's public safety power shutoffs have caused two fires in the past two days.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Backup generators being used by Bay Area businesses and homeowners during PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoffs, have caused two fires in the past two days.

"We really dodged a bullet today," said Oakland firefighter Zac Unger, who was in the first engine to arrive at the fire that destroyed two houses in the Oakland Hills Tuesday morning.

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"We were lucky that we had crews pre-positioned from all over the county here in Oakland because it was such a red flag event," explained Unger. "it could have been enormous. Had we been there a minute or two later it would have started an entire blocks worth and gone incredibly far."

The Oakland Fire Department says the preliminary cause was an overloaded generator. The generator was running outside, between the two houses, because PG&E cut power to the neighborhood during this week's dangerous fire weather.

"We're in a bit of a no-win situation," he said. "We turn the power off in order to stop wildfires and then people use generators, which have their own set of dangers."

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On Monday in Mill Valley, a new professionally installed generator started a fire at Vasco restaurant. The owner said it was too close to his outside wall and heat from the exhaust ignited a fire inside the kitchen.

Many hardware stores sell generators that can be used at homes or in small businesses. Firefighter Unger shared several important tips for safe generator use:

  • Keep your generator outside, in a well-ventilated space
  • Keep several feet of clearance around the generator
  • Keep the generator away from grass or anything flammable
  • Have the generator inspected by an electrician if it's not brand new, or it's been sitting unused for a while
  • Do not overload the generator with too many appliances
  • RELATED: Power Shutoffs: Electricity restored to 97% of customers

    "Pick the thing that is most important to you and just run that, maybe a refrigerator and one light," said Unger, who said users should always check how much electrical capacity their generator can handle.