As the state prepares for a difficult wildfire season, Avista Utilities has said it doesn’t currently plan to shut off power in efforts to prevent fires.
During a May 26 Utilities and Transportation Commission meeting, two utility companies explained their plans ahead of this year’s fire season. Those included weekly fire threat assessment, fire safety training or making fire resistant pole wraps.
Dave James, Avista’s wildfire resiliency plan manager, told the utilities commission late last month that public safety power shutoffs were not currently in their tool kit.
“We’re not including that as an option at this point,” he said.
However, if an agency is fighting a fire near an Avista power line or pole, James said they could de-energize it to assist in the firefighting.
“We believe that our ability to mitigate fire threat through our protection system is very good,” James said.
In the last couple of fire seasons, some electric companies, including Pacific Gas & Electric in California, have temporarily cut power to dry parts of their service areas during wind storms to prevent wildfires .
During last year’s Labor Day fires, a tree fell into Avista Utilities power lines and ignited the brush underneath. Strong winds pushed the fire to Malden, where it destroyed about 120 homes, eight commercial buildings and 94 other structures.
Dry conditions this year already have led to 410 fires across the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The previous 10-year average was 158 fires at this point in the year.
Utility companies could be forced to cut power to certain areas, but as of now the utilities commission hasn’t required power companies in the state to develop cutoff plans.
DNR does not have the authority to force utility companies to shut off, but the department does help them develop wildfire mitigation strategies, wildfire communications manager Thomas Kyle-Milward wrote in an email.
“We’ll continue working with those companies going forward, providing them with information about wildfire risk in Washington and data when requested,” he said.
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