This past winter's heavy rains and work by utility PG&E have sharply reduced the risk of major wildfire locally so far this year. But, preparedness, and awareness are still very much needed as the summer sun does its work on a formerly lush landscape.
An online town hall hosted by the power company Wednesday evening covered all the basics every Californian should be able to recite in their sleep. Have emergency supplies ready to go, with food, water, medication, flashlights, first aid, emergency contacts and critical documents.
The forum, specifically for North Coast residents, detailed preventative work the company is doing and an outlook for the remainder of the year.
Joe Segura, customer emergency operations manager for PG&E, said the currently quiet summer may not last.
"The winter storms we faced earlier this year pushed back the start of peak wildfire season in a lot of areas. It typically we see peak wildfire season run from May to November, this year, we are tracking more along the lines of late June early July that is a welcome release that we will take, we will take any day. But, big fires are still a possibility throughout the remainder of the year. And, the locations where the risk is high may change from where we traditionally see fire risk due to all the increased vegetation and growth brought on by all of the rain we saw earlier this year," Segura said
The biggest changes though, according to PG&E vice president Ron Richardson, are enhanced powerline safety settings--technology that nearly immediately cuts power if it detects a short or arcing.
"These settings are set to happen a tenth of a second once it sees a fault. It's going to open up. To really understand its really going to reduce the change of ignition. One thing we're seeing this year is a twenty-five percent reduction, year to date, on those type of outages, which means we've done the right work to go into where we've seen last year to try and prevent those continuing to happen," said Richardson.
The company says it is doubling down on clearing vegetation and also burying lines. And company staff say it has installed hundreds of fire cameras and automated weather stations.
These should enable faster detection and enable firefighters to reach a new start before getting out of control.
Austin Sharp, senior manager for PG&E’s North Coast, said the public may still experience outages, but that the company is working to reduce their number and duration.
"That where we're trying to prioritize a balance. Eliminating fire ignitions, getting better at sectionalizing the lines, sensitivity of the settings, so that we are eliminating as many of those outages as we possibly can," Sharp said.
The presentation can be viewed online at PGE.com/webinars