As Summer Heats Up, UEC Looks to Wildfire Safety

The practice of preemptively taking power lines out of service to mitigate wildfire, commonly known as a Public Safety Power Shutoff, is taking hold in the Northwest.

In recent years, wildfires have emerged as a growing public safety concern throughout the West. Although wildfires have many causes, from lightning to an unattended campfire spark, electric utilities are doing their part to help keep communities safe.

Wholesale power supplier Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) addresses a full range of preventable measures in its wildfire mitigation plan, including the last resort measure of shutting off its transmission lines in response to extreme weather conditions to ensure public safety.

During fire season there may be emergency conditions or weather triggers that require BPA to de-energize some lines to minimize the potential of a fire, the agency said.

For its part, the Oregon Legislature is considering measures that would bring the state’s policies into closer alignment with California. If approved, the measures would require some utilities to produce annual wildfire prevention plans and prepare for preemptive power outages when weather conditions, such as high winds and extreme drought, exceed benchmarks.The legislation would require additional utilities to adopt similar standards, which would be approved by their governing bodies.

As the summer begins, UEC continues to enhance its historic preventative program, including vegetation management and proactive equipment maintenance that considers wildfire risk.

Our Ongoing Preventative Measures
  • Every year, we trim thousands of trees and clear vegetation. As an added precaution, we are shredding and mulching the underbrush beneath power lines in high density areas, clearing away sagebrush, Russian olives and blackberry patches.
  • In mountain areas we reconfigure protective equipment to shut down power lines on the first sign of an electrical fault. The line won’t be re-energized until it is inspected and manually reset.
  • On portions of overhead power lines, we install current-limiting fuses, which are filled with sand, to help isolate faults and eliminate arcing resulting from fault conditions.
Improvements to “Harden the System”
  • In recent years, we have placed miles of our power lines underground in the Weston Mountain area to further protect forested areas.
  • In higher risk areas on our system, we are installing fire-resistant steel poles.
  • We are installing additional protective equipment on lines to quickly isolate a line that is damaged.
Take Precautions to Protect Your Property
  • While we clear vegetation in the rights-of-way, please take precautions to protect yourself and your property.
  • To reduce the risk, consider the fire resistance of your home, the topography of your property and the nature of the vegetation close by.
  • Create a "Defensible Space" surrounding your home through landscaping, keeping growth at least 30 feet from structures.
  • Visit Avoiding Wildfire Damage, and Oregon Ready Set Go! for tips on keeping your home, your family and your community safe from wildfires.