Dealing with wildfire risks

Utilities are implementing new plans


Wildfire preparedness has generated a focus on preparing, protecting, and planning for public utilities as they developed a response to Oregon legislation passed after recent horrendous fire seasons. Both the Eugene Water & Electric Board and the Lane Electric Cooperative are reaching out to the public to familiarize people with what they’ve developed.

EWEB says its mitigation activities are designed to protect public safety, reduce risk to utility customers and promote electrical system resilience to wildfire damage. Earlier this year, the utility’s board allocated $1 million for wildfire mitigation activities.

Details of EWEB’s plans include year-round maintenance and inspections, vegetation removal and tree trimming for clearance around electrical equipment, as well as fire-fuel reduction projects within high-risk fire zones.

The utility will also launch infrastructure projects to improve reliability and benefit wildfire mitigation by using fire-resistant equipment and construction methods.

That approach could be similar to work already completed in two upriver areas, according to Jeannine Parisi, EWEB’s resiliency manager. In the Deer Creek area, new metal poles were used when power lines were relocated away from riparian areas. Further downriver, when EWEB restrung 1,700 feet of their lines along North Gate Creek Road, crews used a “slimline format” that stacked the lines laterally, instead of horizontally to creating additional clearance should any nearby branches fall.

People can also expect utilities to increase efforts to monitor weather conditions. One example is the ALERTWildfire camera recently installed on an EWEB communications tower near the Carmen-Smith hydroelectric project.

Throughout the summer the Lane Electric Cooperative has been hosting events around Lane County to discuss wildfire preparedness and share steps it will take to mitigate risks like preparing, protecting and planning. An upriver town hall meeting to review its plans for wildfire preparedness has been set for Monday, July 25th. from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Upper McKenzie Community Center in Rainbow.

Debi Wilson, Lane Electric’s general manager, and Tony Toncray, manager of operations, will be on hand to provide details on the Coop’s fire mitigation plan and take questions from members.

Both utilities have developed improved plans for steps to take when Red Flag warnings are issued, particularly in high-risk zones like the McKenzie River Valley.

“We don’t expect wildfires to get any less risky in the next five to ten years with extreme weather patterns,” notes Parisi. “But we will be smart, strategic and continue to improve our efforts to bring down risks."


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