Power poles treated with fire resistant paint survived the Sheep Fire

Sheep Fire INL smoke fire
A smoke column over the Sheep Fire in Eastern Idaho, July, 2019. BLM photo.

(From the Bureau of Land Management)

Mitigation efforts reduce impacts of 112,000 acre Sheep Fire

The lightning caused Sheep Fire started on the evening of July 22 on the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site in eastern Idaho. The area has a history of large, wind-driven wildfires that burn quickly through the grass and sagebrush desert. The Sheep Fire was no exception. It quickly became INL’s largest fire in history consuming over 112,000 acres.

power poles damaged fire wildfire
Power pole damaged during the T 17 Fire at the INL in 2011. BLM photo.

Firefighters worked hard—and successfully—to save facilities from the wind-driven fire, but infrastructure losses were incurred.  Transmission lines providing electricity to multiple counties across eastern Idaho are prevalent in the area, and their wooden power poles were particularly at risk. Approximately 61 rights of way for transmission lines cross BLM lands near INL. The INL itself has 4,000 power poles situated in brush and grass fuels.

During the active fire seasons of 2010 and 2011, which burned over 160,000 acres of both BLM and INL lands, power poles often burned, resulting in power outages, public safety issues and unplanned replacement costs. After the 2011 fire season, BLM fire mitigation specialists from the Idaho Falls District met with local power company officials, county officials and the INL. They discussed solutions to the considerable loss of power poles incurred from wildfires. The BLM proposed using a latex-based fire retardant paint on power poles to help protect them from burning.

fire retardant paint damaged wildfire fire
Fire retardant paint applied to power poles. BLM photo.

The INL decided to implement this proposal—having lost almost 60 power poles just in 2011. Although the treatment cost $100 per pole, the INL staff was willing to make that investment due to the high replacement cost of $1,200 to $2,500 per pole. Over the next two years, INL painted 3,000 of its power poles 5 feet up from the ground with the fire retardant paint. INL prioritized power poles receiving the paint based on service area, damage risk and vegetation density.Every pole painted in the latex-based fire retardant paint survived the Sheep Fire. Even poles that had not been repainted since their initial coat in 2012 and 2013 survived.

INL’s mitigation efforts successfully kept power to its grid during the Sheep Fire. While wildfires will continue to threaten infrastructure, Idaho Falls District BLM will continue finding innovative and cost effective partnerships in eastern Idaho to mitigate wildland fire impacts.


UPDATE: The product used by the INL is Osmos Fire-Guard Wood Pole Protection.

Lawsuit filed against Southern California Edison for allegedly causing the Rey Fire

The fire burned over 32,000 acres north of Santa Barbara in 2016

Map Rey Fire August 25 2016
Map of the Rey Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 25, 2016. The white line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 23.

The federal government has filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison and two other companies for allegedly allowing the Rey Fire to ignite north of Santa Barbara, California on August 18, 2016. The complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court August 17, 2019 contends that of the 32,606 acres that burned in the fire, 19,752 acres were within the Los Padres National Forest. Also named in the lawsuit were Frontier Communications (a telecommunications company) and Utility Tree Service (a tree trimming company).

The fire started when a tree fell on power and communications lines. The court document states, “SCE and UTS were informed of the potential danger the tree that fell on the subject lines posed, were aware of the danger that said tree might fall on the subject lines before it fell, and failed to take any action to prevent it from falling on the subject lines.”

The filing says Frontier failed to, “…maintain proper vegetation clearance around and below its communication lines, and using a device, including its communication lines and equipment, which may cause a fire and failure to take reasonable precautions to avoid starting and spreading a fire.”

The Government alleges SCE violated the terms of its Special Use Permit for the powerlines by “…failure to prevent damage to the land and property of the United States; to take reasonable precautions to prevent and suppress fires; to construct, maintain and operate its equipment and power lines in a safe and effective working order; and to properly and safely maintain, operate, use and occupy the premises of National Forest System lands.”

On the date the suit was filed, SCE had not paid any of the suppression or rehabilitation costs which amounted to more than $26 million.

In addition to those costs, the Government hopes to recover costs of “wrongful injury to [National Forest] trees, loss of timber and vegetation, loss of habitat and environmental damages, damage to the soil, loss of use, scenic views, and aesthetic values”, in an amount to be determined at a trial by jury.

Rey Fire.
Rey Fire, August 21, 2016. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

 

CAL FIRE confirms — the Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, CA was started by a PG&E powerline

firefighter battles flames Camp Fire
A firefighter battles flames at the Camp Fire. Photo by FirePhotoGirl used with permission.

It comes as no surprise, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has confirmed what was long thought, that equipment on a Pacific Gas and Electric power line started the Camp Fire that burned through Paradise, California. PG&E has been saying for months that it was likely their power line started the fire but CAL FIRE’s investigation now makes it official. This could open the floodgates for numerous civil and possibly criminal cases.

CAL FIRE discovered two points of origin, both caused by the power line. One resulted from vegetation coming in contact with a conductor, but they were not specific about the second source. A few days after the fire started there was an unofficial report that a piece of hardware on a 100-year old high voltage transmission tower failed, causing the line to fall, but this has not been officially confirmed.

CAL Fire did not release its full investigative report, saying it had been forwarded to the Butte County District Attorney’s office, which is considering filing criminal charges against the utility.

The fire started early in the morning on November 8, 2018 near the small community of Pulga northeast of Paradise. It burned over 153,000 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures, and resulted in 85 fatalities. It became the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in the recorded history of California.

Very strong winds and low humidity that day spread the fire rapidly into the town making it impossible to safely fly air tankers and helicopters close to the ground. The wind would have also blown retardant or water far off any selected target.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

System developed to shut off electricity to broken power line before it hits the ground

It can be done in less than 1.37 seconds

Power Line Shutoff System
SDG&E’s has developed a system that can shut off the electricity to a broken power line before it hits the ground. SDG&E graphic.

Some of the wildfires that have destroyed thousands of homes in California in the last two years were caused by broken power lines. A utility that supplies electricity to much of Southern California, San Diego Gas and Electric, has developed a system intended to cut off power to a falling power line before it hits the ground, therefore avoiding a possible ignition.

SDG&E’s research found that it takes 1.37 seconds for a broken conductor to hit the ground, for example, if a tree falls into the line or a vehicle hits a power pole. When the line contacts the ground sparks can ignite vegetation. The system is designed to detect a break and shut off the power before the clock hits 1.37 seconds — hopefully, avoiding what could become a dangerous wildfire.

In SDG&E’s video below, they describe the system beginning at 1:40.

If this actually is effective in the real world, it would be a very important method of preventing some wildfires caused by power lines.

Investigators determine that a power line caused the Thomas Fire

The fire burned 281,893 acres near Santa Barbara, destroyed 1,063 structures, and caused the death of one civilian and one firefighter

Thomas Fire
Thomas Fire, Ventura, CA, Los Padres National Forest, 2017. USFS photo.

The Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) has determined that an arcing power line caused the Thomas Fire that destroyed 1,063 structures and caused the death of a civilian and a firefighter.

Investigators found that strong winds on December 4, 2017 forced Southern California Edison power lines to come in contact with each other, resulting in molten metal falling to the ground which ignited vegetation. The common term for this is “line slap.”

Measured east to west the Thomas Fire spread for over 42 miles, stretching between Fillmore and Santa Barbara in Southern California.

map Thomas Fire
Map of the west side of the Thomas Fire. The red line was the perimeter on December 23, 2017. Click to enlarge.

CAL FIRE Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson of the San Diego/San Diego County Fire Authority was overrun by fire and killed December 14, 2017 while battling the blaze. A 70-year-old woman died in a car accident while fleeing the fire on December 6, 2017.

At one point nearly 9,000 emergency personnel were working on the fire.

The investigative team was comprised of four agencies: CAL FIRE, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Judge to PG&E: Safety is not your number 1 thing

trim trees power line
Mohave Electric Coop photo.

On Wednesday, the day after Pacific Gas and Electric officially filed for bankruptcy protection, a federal judge berated the company for wildfires started by their electrical distribution equipment.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Judge William Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'” And later, “Safety is not your number one thing”.

PG&E has been on criminal probation for years following the 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Judge Alsup is overseeing the company’s probation.

Investigators have attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription).

Below is an excerpt from KCRA:

[Alsup] proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit. Alsup said his goal was to prevent PG&E equipment from causing any wildfires during the 2019 fire season.

PG&E wrote in a court filing last week that the judge’s proposals would endanger lives, could cost $75 to $150 billion to implement, and require the hiring of 650,000 workers.

From the Merced Sun Star:

Alsup, however, was clearly frustrated by PG&E’s explanations. “I don’t buy that there isn’t enough people,” the judge said, adding that PG&E is moving too slowly and wasted billions paying dividends to shareholders instead of removing trees and improving its system.

What does California law require?

The California Public Resources Code section 4293e requires all vegetation to be removed that is within four to 10 feet of a power line, depending on the how many volts it is carrying. The Code also requires the removal of “dead trees, old decadent or rotten trees, trees weakened by decay or disease, and trees or portions thereof that are leaning toward the line which may contact the line from the side or may fall on the line.”

PG&E acknowledged this law and others in the November 2, 2017 edition of their “Currents” publication. The  original copy on the internet has been removed and we were unable to find it — except on the Wayback Machine Internet Archive that was captured on November 20, 2017.

November 2, 2017 edition of PG&E's "Currents"
November 2, 2017 edition of PG&E’s “Currents”. Screen capture from Wayback Machine on November 20, 2017.

Our Opinion

It seems odd, to say the least, that PG&E now seems surprised and outraged that a judge is suggesting that the company “remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions”, which is exactly what the law requires, and which was acknowledged by the company in their newsletter three weeks after their electrical system started a dozen fires in Northern California on October 8, 2017, according to CAL FIRE investigators. The agency is also looking into PG&E power line equipment failures that may have caused the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. Over 40 people died in the Northern California fires, and 86 perished in the Camp Fire which also destroyed more than 14,000 homes.