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EWEB conducts annual High-Risk Fire Zone inspections

April 03, 2023 Robyn Smith, EWEB Communications

Power lines through forest area

Each year, the electric division inspects distribution and transmission lines in EWEB's High-Risk Fire Zones (Map pictured below). 309 distribution 'line miles' are inspected annually before April 1st, that way crews can address any issues found prior to June and the beginning of wildfire season. Additionally, 32 transmission 'line miles' are inspected before summer arrives.

EWEB's high risk fire zones

From the inspections, crews are able to identify issues with equipment, wire, and poles that need repair. Examples of repair work: a rotten pole or cross arm needs replaced, bad fuse cut outs, and primary wire issues need corrected.

As part of this routine system inspection, crews are identifying and addressing equipment failures before wildfire season and doing so mitigates risk of fire ignition. This routine inspection is also required by the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC). 

PUC requires inspection of high wildfire risk circuits, and those inspections are focused on looking for any part of the system that could cause a fire ignition, including inspection of communication lines, which EWEB will report findings to private communication entities so that they can promptly address any issues. Examples of issues with communication lines include lines that could come loose during high wind conditions and make contact with energized lines, or those that lack adequate clearance between communication and power lines. If the private entity does not correct the issue within a specific timeframe, then EWEB can make the necessary corrections and pass along the expense, plus an additional 25% penalty.

The vegetation department will also inspect and prune over 250 'line miles' in high-risk areas such as south Eugene and the McKenzie Valley. The inspection will begin April to May so that crews can see trees blooming, or lack thereof. Crews are looking to address issues such as die back in trees, and fungus including conchs on roots and trunks of trees which are a good sign of potential decay. They will also look for areas where clearance between trees and power lines can be improved to further reduce fire risk.

EWEB's Wildfire Mitigation Plan

EWEB’s Board of Commissioners approved the utility’s first Wildfire Mitigation Plan in the summer of 2022. The plan is designed to protect public safety, reduce risk to utility customers and promote electrical system resilience to wildfire damage.  

We already have many well-established programs in place for grid reliability and safety that support wildfire risk mitigation and our Wildfire Mitigation Plan meets the legislative requirements for Oregon electric utilities to develop risk-based plans and adopt more rigorous standards and industry best practices. These include annual vegetation management and equipment inspections in areas of higher wildfire risk. EWEB has also established procedures that make the electric system more sensitive during fire weather events so that it quickly trips off-line to reduce risk of sparking. Learn more about EWEB's wildfire safety and prevention work.

What can you do?

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.

Everyone should have a plan for how you and your family will stay safe from wildfire. During wildfire season and year-round, we encourage customers to have an emergency plan and ensure your household is ready for a prolonged power or water disruption. Check out our emergency preparedness page for tips and resources.