MEDFORD, Ore. — After a devastating 2018 wildfire season that featured the deadly Camp Fire in California, which an investigation concluded began from PG&E power equipment, regional electric utility company Pacific Power is rolling out a new set of procedures aimed at preventing similar situations in increasingly fire-prone areas of Oregon.
"As wildfires become more frequent and intense throughout the West, protecting the communities we serve from this increasing threat, while providing safe, reliable power, is our highest priority," said Scott Bolton, Senior Vice President, External Affairs and Customer Solutions. "We are building on our work over past years to strengthen our system and implement additional safety measures to reduce wildfire risks."
It’s #WildfirePreparednessWeek and your safety is our top concern. With special equipment and trained crews, our goal is to protect you and your community. Learn how we’re preparing for wildfire season at https://t.co/NfQKaWafkP pic.twitter.com/VfhUo32Qjg— Pacific Power CA (@PacificPower_CA) May 9, 2019
Bolton said that Pacific Power has been working with local emergency agencies, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), and community leaders to develop emergency response plans in times of high wildlifire risk. According to Bolton, the following efforts are all part of the new fire season plan:
- Enhancing vegetation inspections and vegetation clearance around power lines or poles, increasing facilities inspections, making investments to improve equipment resiliency and fire-proofing, installing local weather stations, and training and equipping field crews for wildfire suppression.
- Establishing a new fire prevention measure called a "Public Safety Power Shutoff" for areas at a higher risk of fast-spreading wildfires. A Public Safety Power Shutoff is a new measure designed to help keep people and communities in high-risk areas safe, by proactively shutting off power during extreme and dangerous weather conditions that can result in catastrophic wildfires. This measure would only be taken as a last resort to help ensure customer and community safety.
- Working with local governments and emergency services agencies to update them on the conditions when this protocol would be used and seeking their input on coordination should for a potential Public Safety Power Shutoff.
- Launching a public wildfire education and outreach campaign starting June 24 to share wildfire safety and prevention tips and to inform customers of the company’s Public Safety Power Shutoff measure. This would include public information workshops for communities in high-risk areas.
"Customers can take steps now to prepare for emergencies by keeping vegetation around their homes trimmed and low and updating their emergency plans and supplies," Bolton said. "Customers should also contact us to ensure their contact information is up-to-date, so we can keep provide updates about increased fire risk alerts, potential power outages and updates on power restoration."
Since the Camp Fire, PG&E has implemented more power shutoffs similar to those now being adopted by Pacific Power.
A statement from Josephine County on Wednesday indicates that Pacific Power has been true to their word, working with local governments to develop plans tailored to each area. Several meetings between local leaders and Pacific Power representatives took place in May.
"Since then, county representatives and other community stakeholders have been actively engaged in providing feedback and input on the plan, with the goal of limiting the risk of catastrophic wildfire while minimizing citizen hardship," the County statement said.
Public Safety Power Shutoffs are "of particular interest" to County representatives, they said.
“As wildfires become more frequent and intense throughout the West, our focus is on keeping our customers and our communities safe,” said Christina Kruger, Pacific Power regional business manager for Josephine and Jackson counties. “As part of this, we are working together with local counties’ emergency services to ensure they are informed of our planning and have an opportunity to provide feedback. Providing safe, reliable power is our highest priority.”