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Southern California Edison Officials Say We Could See Major Drop In Precautionary Power Shutoffs During Peak Wildfire Season

Southern California Edison Crews replace power lines in Camarillo with ones which are better able to withstand extreme fire danger conditions
(Southern California Edison photo)
Southern California Edison Crews replace power lines in Camarillo with ones which are better able to withstand extreme fire danger conditions

Utility has been working on multiple projects to address issue in Ventura, Santa Barbara Counties

It was an effort to prevent the dangerous combination of extreme wildfire conditions, and power lines from creating another monster blaze like the Thomas, or Woolsey Fires. But, for Joann Chee of Moorpark, and her family, it meant a wild scramble one day last year to cope with an intentional, yet still unexpected power outage.

Chee says they received a notice that a Southern California Edison Pubic Safety Power Shutoff was a possibility, but says they were still caught off guard when it actually happened. They ended up losing some of their refrigerated food. Chee says her husband, who was working at home because of the pandemic, had to go to the San Fernando Valley and work from his mother's house.

As we move into high wildfire season on the Central and South Coasts, the shutoffs are again a possibility during extreme fire condition periods. But, Edison officials say they have been stepping up efforts to take steps to reduce the need for power shutoff events. They say they have taken complaints from the public and government agencies seriously, and are working to address them with alredy planned improvements.

Reggie Kumar, with SCE, says the steps are expected to mean a major drop in the number of precautionary power shutoff events this year. He says if projects like changing out some traditional power lines for insulated ones, and the realignment of some power circuits gets completed by this fall, the Moorkpark and Simi Valley areas could see a more than 60% drop in the shutoffs. He says that number is also dependent on the weather conditions we have this year.

The insulated lines mean branches flying into them during wind events won't trigger blazes. It also eliminates sparks if the wind blows lines into each other. Because of the size of Southern California's power grid, taking steps like putting in insulated lines, or in some cases undergrounding them is an involved multi-year process.

Tom Rolinksi is Southern California Edison’s Fire Scientist. He says they have also expanded the utility’s ability to predict dangerous fire weather conditions. They've expanded the number of remote weather stations in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. They've also added more supercomputers used to crunch the live data to help develop localized forecasts. Plus, there are now more surveillance cameras which allow the early detection of smoke from fires.

A SCE remote weather station on a power pole in Simi Valley
(Southern California Edison photo)

Kumar says while it may be hard for some to see that the shutoffs they experienced actually prevented a fire, they have evidence. As crews have done line checks after wind events, and before reenergizing power lines, they've found dozens of branches, and other debris which in the past would have triggered blazes.

Chee says she hopes her family won’t be affected by another shutoff this year, but says she does see why they can be necessary. She's hoping that if it happens, there will be more notice.

Southern California Edison officials say it’s a work in progress. But, they hope is that ongoing projects like upgrading power lines will continue to reduce the need annually for public safety power shutoff events.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.