EWEB serves thousands of homes and businesses in heavily forested areas that are at increased risk of wildfire, including the South Hills of Eugene and the McKenzie River Valley. In addition, wildfires can cause direct physical damage to utility infrastructure such as power lines, substations and our hydro generation projects in the McKenzie Valley.
When there is a high risk of wildfire, we modify the protection settings on power lines in certain areas and make safety-related operational changes to select substations.
As each weather situation is unique, we work closely with other agencies such as Lane County Emergency Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Oregon Department of Forestry, and carefully review a combination of factors that dictate when to implement additional protective measures, including:
These protective measures include modifying high-voltage electric switches and relays. Just like a circuit breaker connected to household electric lines, the switch senses when trouble occurs - such as a tree branch falling on the line - and shuts off the power. When there is no or low fire danger, the switches and relays are set automatically to attempt to close (complete the circuit) three times. When fire danger is high, we disable the automatic switches so the line is de-energized after a single incident.
During periods of high wildfire risk, our technicians will drive and visually inspect a de-energized line. If the line has no branches or other debris, field staff will then notify our dispatch center the line is safe to energize. Following a check with Central Lane 911 for any fire-related events in the area, we will then re-energize the line.
Taking these safety precautions requires a technician to manually re-enable the line after a visual patrol. This ensures a high level of protection during wildfire conditions, but may result in increased outages and may extend restoration times.
We realize this proactive approach of increased safety practices can present challenges, especially for those who live in rural areas and rely on electric pumps for wells. If a power line that supplies your home or business is de-energized, we will restore power as soon as the conditions permit, and crews have inspected the system to confirm it is safe to re-energize power lines.
To help prevent tree-related outages and mitigate wildfire risk, we proactively prune trees and remove brush to help keep our equipment clear. Crews trim around 300 overhead power line miles of vegetation annually to minimize falling trees and branches for ongoing reliability maintenance. The aggressive vegetation management also mitigates wildfire risk.
Over the past three years, our tree crews have paid particular attention to areas within our service territory that are at high risk for wildfires. Crews in 2021 will inspect and prune an additional 125 overhead line miles specifically for fire protection in high-risk areas. In 2020, the crews inspected and pruned 250 line miles for fire protection, in addition to the approximately 300 line miles trimmed as part of the regular program.
Just as we manage vegetation to keep trees away from power lines, it's important for you to create a line of defense around your property by clearing dead trees and brush away from your property, particularly if you live in the south hills and other heavily forested areas of our community.
When selecting a new tree to plant, follow the "Right Tree, Right Place" approach. By picking the proper species and planting procedure, you can increase public safety, reduce power outages, reduce the need for routine pruning, and promote healthy, beautiful trees.