Ready for Wildfires

It’s hard to believe summer is already winding down, and we’ve yet to have many hot days by Oregon Coast standards (knock wood). But I’m not complaining; mild summers mean less fire risk.

The catastrophic Echo Mountain Wildfire east of Lincoln City in 2020 erased any illusion that wildfire doesn’t happen here. Nearly 300 families lost their homes in that fire, but fortunately, no one was killed; fire experts called this ‘miraculous.’ The state of Oregon says the risk of wildfire here is “low to moderate” but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the need to prepare.

As a Central Lincoln board member, I’m very aware of the importance of preparation for wildfires, and our employees are as well. Two months ago, we formally approved an extensive Wildfire Mitigation Plan for this utility, and while it is 32 pages, I will share some highlights.

Our analysts tell us contact from objects (including trees and other vegetation), equipment failure, and wire-to-wire contact pose the greatest fire risks for our electric system. We have approximately 2,700 miles of overhead lines – a significant challenge to maintain and monitor. Vegetation-to-line contacts account for roughly half of our outages annually, the majority of which occur during our stormy, wet winter months.

Central Lincoln uses a risk-based methodology to identify ranked priorities for lines to be trimmed and cleared. Staff does annual reviews of our lines to help us prioritize where our trimming crews will go next; the process is by no means random.

We have hundreds of miles of transmission lines, and inspect them annually to assess areas at risk for line contacts. We have doubled our budget for tree trimming and vegetation management over the past three years. This has resulted in better trimming cycles and should lead to even fewer outages in the near future. We are making significant investments to keep trees away from our lines!

As high winds are a given, we’ve built our system to withstand winds up to 100 mph. This includes poles, extra-heavy crossarms and conductors, and increasing the space between overhead wires to reduce wire-to-wire contacts.

During fire season, our crews carry firefighting equipment, water, chain saws with spark arrestors, and operations supervisors and crews use handheld weather monitoring stations to check weather conditions and fire risks.

While we hope the 700+ square miles of territory we serve will never be struck by a catastrophic wildfire, we will be ready if it does.

-Judy Matheny
Subdivision 4: Dunes City, Florence