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Western ECI's Work Aids in Firefighting

Date Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Contra Costa County: Cal Fire Thanks PG&E for Tree Work that Helped Fight Mt. Diablo Fire

By Tamar Sarkissian

The Morgan Fire in Contra Costa County’s Mt. Diablo State Park is now 95 percent contained. The fire, which began on September 8, burned more than 3,000 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 100 homes at the height of the blaze. However, Cal Fire crews were able to save homes that were in the path of the fire, thanks in part to PG&E’s Vegetation Management team. The homes are located on Oak Hill Lane in unincorporated Contra Costa County.

Back in 2008, PG&E’s Vegetation Management team removed more than 780 trees and 3,500 units of brush from under three spans of critical 230-kilovolt (kV) transmission lines which run in the area. The Vegetation Management team has continued to maintain the area over the past five years.

In areas where PG&E had done previous vegetation-management work, firefighters were able to suppress the spread of the fire more easily. (Photo by Scott Carlton.)

Cal Fire Unit Chief Steve Woodill expressed his gratitude in a letter addressed to PG&E CEO Tony Earley. Based on conversation with a battalion chief, Woodill wrote “… the fuel reduction efforts conducted under the 230 KV electrical transmission lines that are located near the fire perimeter were instrumental in CAL Fire’s suppression success on the eastern perimeter of the fire.” Woodill, chief of the Santa Clara Unit, explained that the removal of vegetation under the lines also provided access for fire crews and helped increase the perimeter line to stop the fire in that area.

Resident grateful to firefighters, PG&E

Nancy Howe has lived on five acres on Oak Hill Lane for more than 40 years, and was among the residents forced to evacuate due to the Mt. Diablo fire. In an interview with Currents, she said she was amazed to see her home still standing, and is grateful for maintenance work done under PG&E transmission lines.

“Thank God they (PG&E) came out and did it a couple of years ago, because even though the trees had some growth on them now, if they hadn’t cleared it, it would have been disastrous,” Howe said. “It’s the maintenance that really helped them contain the fire.”

The removal of trees and shrubs under critical transmission lines is a job that spans more than 6,800 miles throughout PG&E’s service territory. Approximately 6,300 miles of the work, including the span near Oak Hill Lane, is already complete and is currently being maintained to promote the growth of low-growing plants under the transmission lines.

Vegetation that makes contact with a transmission line can lead to catastrophic consequences, including widespread regional outages, property damage, economic losses, and even serious injury or death.

“I’m ecstatic our work made a difference,” said Bob Bell, a supervising program manager with PG&E’s Transmission Vegetation Management program.  “It’s exceptionally gratifying to know the work we did for safety and reliability actually helped protect these people’s homes.”

PG&E provided support

PG&E also supported firefighting efforts, focusing on safety and working to minimize impacts to customers and protecting critical infrastructure. This included dispatching a Mobile Command Vehicle to the Cal Fire Command Facility at Camp Parks in Dublin. The vehicle has the capability to print hard copy maps of PG&E electric facilities. PG&E also has gone into the heart of the impacted area, assessing equipment, working on repairing distribution lines impacted by the fire, and doing vegetation management work.

“Our contract foresters inspected the lines and identified trees that are hazardous and could fail into PG&E lines and equipment,” said April Kennedy, a program manager with PG&E’s Vegetation Management Department based in the East Bay. “Once the trees are identified, we notify property owners, and our tree pruning contractors perform the necessary work to ensure public safety and reliability of our electrical grid system.”

In addition to the work under critical transmission lines, each year, PG&E’s Vegetation Management Department inspects every mile of line in the company’s service area. That’s approximately 140,000 miles of utility transmission and distribution lines and more than 130,000 poles and transmission structures and represents an investment of more than $190 million every year to ensure safety and reliability.

International Society of ArboricultureEdison Electric InstituteNational Rural Electric Cooperative AssociationUtility Arborist Association

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