Power company stages contract firefighters during wind event

SDG&E weather stations

During a red flag warning last week for predicted strong winds in southern California, San Diego Gas and Electric staged contract wildland firefighters in remote areas of San Diego County to be able to respond quickly if a power line failure caused a fire. Using an automatic system, SDG&E called 11,500 residents in the eastern parts of the county to warn them that the utility could turn off their power if they determined that the fire danger reached a predetermined threshold. The utility has recently installed 130 weather stations in their service area that transmit data via a cell phone network to their headquarters.

SDG&E weather stations
SDG&E weather stations. Credit: SDG&E

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Ramona Sentinel:

…“We used to have only one weather station per circuit, and now some circuits have as many as five, so we can try to pinpoint the potential impact of weather on our system,” [SDG&E spokesman Stephanie] Donovan said. “We also began staging crews in wind-prone areas to hasten response time.”

A typical crew is four SDG&E troubleshooters and two or three firefighters, who are part of a contract wildfire strike team hired by the utility.

“SDG&E had about 90 people staged in the areas where the highest winds were forecast,” Donovan said. “This included our distribution crews, contract firefighters, transmission construction and maintenance crews, and even Telecomm personnel.”

The staging of observers turned out to be “invaluable,” she said.

“Specifically, an electric troubleshooter out of SDG&E’s construction and operations center in Escondido followed fire trucks onto Tribal Road within the Rincon Reservation to find poles and wire down with a half-acre fire. It was determined the line was a 2.4 kilovolt customer-owned equipment,” Donovan said.

“Another troubleshooter patrolling a line came across a leaning pole with secondary wire in the Rincon area, and was able to call it in and get it fixed. Finally, one of SDG&E’s weather stations in the Santa Ysabel area stopped updating in the middle of the event, so one of the stand-by crews was sent to troubleshoot the issue and soon had the weather station back on line communicating via cellular modem.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.