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Pacific Power crews work through the heavy smoke to restore power to families

"I don't know how many poles got burned up, but it was too many to count. Our job there was to get the lights back on anyway that we could."

Posted: Aug 1, 2019 7:43 PM
Updated: Aug 1, 2019 7:44 PM

ROGUE VALLEY, Ore. -- Pacific Power is doing a lot of maintenance work to prevent wildfires. This summer they even brought in tree crews to trim 10-foot circles around poles that are a fire risk, but that doesn't mean they've had a fire-free summer.

NewsWatch12 spoke with one Pacific Power crew Thursday that said they can't let the smoke slow them down. In fact, two of the worers we spoke with actually have asthma and another one said he is getting sick from all the smoke he's worked in this week from the MilePost 97 fire. Despite unhealthy air quality, they said they work through it to make sure all their customers have power.

Kelly Dillard has worked as a journeyman lineman for the last 20 years. Dillard said, "The smoke adds a big factor to it. If you can't breathe right, it's just hard to preform your job. It's just that simple."

This isn't his first fire season – and he says it doesn't get easier.

"I have asthma, but being out in that smoke for 16 to 20 hour days is extremely difficult, it's hard to describe, but it's exhausting and you feel worn out and it's really hard to breathe," Dillard said.

He's not alone. All 3 of the workers NewsWatch12 spoke with Thursday said they suffer from some sort of lung condition that only gets worse in the smoke.

Kurt Lorenzini, Apprentice Qualified Lineman, has worked in the industry for a year. Lorenzini said he also has asthma. 

"I just keep my inhaler close and if something was wrong I'd say something," Lorenzini said. 

Dillard said, "We have masks that we can wear, but when the smokes real heavy, they're hard to wear especially if you're wearing them all day long and it's like 100°. The mask just aren't very user-friendly."

Last summer, Pacific Power crews spent months restoring power to areas in Mount Shasta after fires got out of control there. Dillard was one of the people sent to restore power. He said crews worked long hours in heavy smoke for weeks at a time.

"I don't know how many poles got burned up, but it was too many to count," he said. "Our job there was to get the lights back on anyway that we could."

They all agreed working in smoke is hard, but their main priority is to get power restored for people, no matter what it takes.

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