YUCCA VALLEY — Firefighters and Southern California Edison officials urged the people of the Morongo Basin to be prepared for wildfires and power outages during a community meeting at Yucca Valley High School Wednesday.
“We are taking a number of significant steps to reduce the wildfire risks with our system,” said Jennifer Cusack, government relations manager with Southern California Edison.
The utility recently announced it may turn off the power during hot, windy weather to reduce the danger of starting a wildfire like the Camp Fire, which was sparked in 2018 by Pacific Gas and Electric power lines.
Many have expressed concerns about power shut-offs. Representatives from SCE explained the process.
“We’re not planning any power outages right now,” Cusack said.
“We have a protocol called the Public Safety Power Shut-Off and, when certain weather or fire conditions are met, then that is something that we might enact, if we feel like the weather and our power lines would pose a threat to the safety of the public,” Abel added.
In an ideal scenario, people will receive alerts starting 48 hours in advance. Then there would be follow-up alerts the day of the shut off and once power is restored.
SCE is taking other steps to improve safety this year.
Utility workers are monitoring power lines using both helicopters and ground crews. Their coverage area includes approximately 400,000 poles.
Workers are also replacing the old wood poles with new ones made out of composite material.
“Most of our wires are bare wires out there, so we’re putting this coating over them that’s called covered conductor,” said Chris Abel, principal manager of local affairs for SCE. “So if a palm frond flies into this, it’s not going to ignite. If this falls down, there’s less of a chance that it is going to cause an ignition if it has this coating. We’re shooting for 7,500 circuit miles of the covered conductor.”
Residents at the community meeting asked about brush control.
“I’ve got a bunch of trees growing under their power lines and normally they would come by, see that they’re getting close to the power lines and cut them,” said Ray Truver, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years.
“Well, they’re getting really close now and I haven’t seen anyone come by to do anything.”
The SCE spokespeople said the utility removes hazardous trees and vegetation and clears brush 12 feet away from distribution power lines.
“That’s a ton of tree trimming work. We’re going to trim on the lines of 900,000 trees this year,” Abel said.
Changes in climate mean all seasons are potentially fire seasons. Added vegetation from plentiful rains adds even more risk.
“2018 was the worst wildfire season in California history in terms of lives lost, homes destroyed and acres burned,” said Scott Tuttle, a battalion chief with the county fire department.
“More than 100 people lost their lives, almost two million acres were burned and thousands of structures were destroyed.”
Tuttle said wildfire danger is high this year.
“All that green grass and wildflowers from spring, that all dried up, and it’s ready to burn,” he said.
“We’ve already seen several fires here in the Morongo Basin, several small fires: one, two, five acre fires and it’s pretty early in the season.”
There are two critical aspects of wildfire awareness: prevention and preparedness.
“The vast majority of fires are human caused. That means that most fires are preventable. We can’t prevent all fires, but what we can do is be prepared,” said Tuttle.
Tuttle also stressed the importance of timely evacuations.
“One of the difficulties we have, when we’re going into a fire area, is people who stay behind thinking they would be OK until the last minute, when they’re all congested in streets while we’re trying to go into neighborhoods. So please, go early.”