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PG&E increases power line inspections, brush removal during busy - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

PG&E increases power line inspections, brush removal during busy fire season

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Crews remove potentially hazardous trees near power lines. (Photo courtesy PG&E) Crews remove potentially hazardous trees near power lines. (Photo courtesy PG&E)

More fires have been reported this year in California compared to all of 2016.
  
A small number of those fires were sparked by downed power lines, so PG&E representatives say they're doing extra work to ensure power lines are less of a fire threat. 

PG&E officials say crews are doubling up patrols, checking power lines and potentially hazardous trees and brush around their poles. They are doing this as the state faces an extremely busy summer fire season.

In the last seven months, CAL FIRE says there has been a significant increase in fire activity across the state compared to last year. In fact, about 65,000 more acres have burned this year.

California wildfires (statistics provided by CAL FIRE)

  • January 1, 2017 through July 30, 2017 - 3,736 fires, 206,062 acres burned
  • January 1, 2016 through July 30, 2016 - 2,860 fires, 139,014 acres burned

"We have a huge grass crop, one that we haven't seen in many years. That light flashy grass, it spreads faster into that heavier fuel and bigger brush," said Capt. Dave Zaniboni, Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

In both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, there have already been more fires in the past seven months than there were in all of 2016. In both counties, fire officials say just a small number of those fires were caused by power lines, whether they are owned privately or by a corporation.

Santa Barbara County wildfires (statistics provided by Santa Barbara County Fire)

  • January 2017 through July 2017 - 41 fires, 6 caused by downed power lines (2 of which were privately owned)
  • 2016 year total - 41 fires, 11 caused by downed power lines (2 of which were privately owned)

San Luis Obispo County (statistics provided by CAL FIRE SLO)*

  • January 2017 through July 2017 - 136 fires, 16 caused by downed power lines
  • 2016 year total - 121 fires, 22 caused by downed power lines

*CAL FIRE was unable to determine which power line company, if not privately owned, caused a certain fire.

PG&E says they are taking precautions and doubling up work crews that provide weed abatement services around power lines.

"First of all, we had the drought the past five years, with the extreme effects of the drought on dead trees. Because they were stressed, and also the bark beetle, we've actually increased our vegetation management program and have included daily flight patrols," said Pat Mullen, PG&E Division Director.

PG&E says they also fly five fixed-wing planes a day between Vacaville and Solvang to look out for fires that may have started near their power plants or lines. 

PG&E says they've also stepped up inspections of power lines and the trees around them to try to prevent any future fires.

"The fear is they could fall over into a power line and spark a fire. Because of that, our vegetation management crews are out doing more inspections and patrols and removing those dead and dying trees that could fall into power lines," Mullen said.

Fire officials say they're throwing more resources at vegetation fires as soon as they break out, to try to prevent them from getting out of control. They say we're still in the beginning stages of a high fire season and extra precautions will be taken until we get more rain.

Additional resources:
Ready for Wildfire
PG&E, SLO County Fire Safe Council, Join Forces to Combat Wildfire Risk

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