Powering up in a fire zone

August 9, 2017

What does it take to restore power in fire zone?

It takes a team of people ready and able to tackle dangerous trees, fresh flare ups and steep terrain.

When a forest fire broke out northeast of Princeton, BC on an early Friday evening in July, it not only damaged power lines but a few days later, caused the evacuation of close to 200 homes and the closure of main access road to Missezula Lake.

“When fire first hit, we were onsite supporting the fire efforts, clearing downed lines from the road for the safety of fire crews,” said Steven Byrnell, operations supervisor, transmission & distribution, FortisBC.

The following Wednesday, high winds swept through the area, causing additional challenges for fire crews and damage to power lines.

Escorted by wildfire crews, powerline technicians assessed the damage. In addition to fallen trees on downed lines, they saw a number of more trees ready to fall—a dangerous situation for both crews and equipment. And, with the ground still smoldering from the recent fire, a downed tree could mean a fresh flare up.

FortisBC officials made the difficult decision to keep the power off until they could develop a plan for safe restoration.

“But we knew people would be returning home soon and we wanted to make sure their power was back on for them,” said Byrnell.

By Saturday, a 19-person ground crew of highly-skilled wildfire professionals, brushing crews and powerline technicians were assembled and ready to get to work. They were supported by three operations managers who worked in the background to plan logistics and secure supplies.

“It was a challenging situation and it took a lot coordination between us, Asplundh Tree Removal and wild fire officials, with safety everyone’s top priority” said Byrnell.

Professional tree assessors identified and tagged compromised trees. They were followed by three-person brushing crews who carefully took down each tree. A five-person wildfire attack team put out each new fire and made sure crews did not get trapped. As each section was cleared, powerline technicians repaired the line.

Together, the team felled more than 80 trees and repaired 15 kilometers of power lines.

On July 19, just four days later after they were allowed entry, the team had permission from BC Wildfire’s Incident Command to restore power to the line.

“We were really impressed with everyone’s professionalism and expertise, we really appreciate the hard work and dedication of everyone across the province who is working to fight these fires and get everyone safely back in their homes.”

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Fire crews tackling the forest fire along Summers Creek Road, outside of Princeton, BC.


Crews survey damage on a line in the South Okanagan.

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