SPOKANE, Wash. -In 2017, northern California saw some of the most devastating wildfires in their history. The fires destroyed thousands of homes, killed nearly four dozen people and caused over $12 billion in damage.
According to California state fire investigators, the utility company PG&E's equipment may be responsible for at least a 12 of the fire starts. They say it appears large branches hit power lines branches that were supposed to be trimmed. PG&E could be on the hook for billions of dollars in restitution.
During the dry summer months, eastern Washington is particularly at risk for wildfires, and we reached out to our local utility company Avista. Avista's Director Of Operations David Howell tells KHQ they take the risk of fire to their system very seriously. Especially during the peak fire season “We have three primary programs that we use to manage fire risk,” said Avista Operations Director David Howell.
Those programs include their vegetation management program where they go out and trim back trees that are around the power lines. During fire season if the power goes out, Avista actively monitors fire conditions by sending out crews to visual inspect the equipment before restoring power. They also have been in the process of replacing wooden power poles with steel ones to lower the fire risk "During fire season, or when there's a known fire on our system Avista works with a and coordinates with local agencies to make sure we have the appropriate incident response," added Howell
Avista monitors over 275,000 trees and has more than 30,000 square miles of service territory to manage. They tell KHQ trees are trimmed at least ten feet back and in rural areas, they will clear the entire space around the lines so branches or trees won't fall on them. The goal is clear avoiding what happened in California, save lives, and save property.