The California State Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communication held a Wildfire Safety Hearing on January 26th 2018. The hearing focused on the 1.2 million acres and thousands of buildings damaged in the 2017 California wildfires. The Thomas fire of Southern California was the largest in acres at 280,000, but in Northern California the Tubbs fire was California’s most destructive with 5,600 structures burned. The Tubbs, Redwood Valley, Atlas and Cascade fires combined to claim 41 lives.
Human caused ignitions start most wildfires. Electrical power lines constitute a significant minority of these fires, the 3rd most common cause behind equipment use and the burning of debris. Power line fires are estimated to occurs hundreds of times each year, and are being actively investigated as the cause of the Tubbs, Redwood Valley, Atlas and Cascade Northern California wildfires.
The committee had these findings:
The committee drew from experiences and lessons learned not just within the US, but abroad in places such as Australia. Australia suffered their own catastrophic fires in the past, including the “Black Saturday” fire of 2009, and had to learn to adapt to prevent remove wildfires from claiming lives and property. They discovered that while wildfires were not usually started by electrical infrastructure, those fires were disproportionately damaging and dangerous:
“…on days of extreme fire danger the percentage of fires linked to electrical assets rises dramatically. Thus, electricity-caused fires are most likely to occur when the risk of a fire getting out of control and having deadly consequences is greatest.”
The committee noted how the CPUC in response to 2017 wildfires drew up new measures to add vegetation management and more frequent inspections of power lines. Also adopted was a new fire map that added land under high fire threat. Best practices for high threat areas include:
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