Fire Season Means Extra Precautions

An Asplundh contract crew working for NLI trims trees near a power line. Photo by Travis Cottier

With the dry spring we had this year and going into our generally dry summer, the Northern Lights (NLI) Operation Department has wildfire prevention on its mind.

Wildfire prevention is an ongoing concern among all electric utilities, especially those serving heavily treed regions. NLI is proactive about fire prevention and takes all precautions to protect our lines from the threat of wildfires.

NLI has numerous practices and plans in place to minimize the potential impact related to fires. Fire mitigation combines vegetation management operational practices, inspection and maintenance, design and construction, response and recovery, and situational awareness.

Vegetation management is a huge part of fire mitigation for NLI. A large portion of our annual budget is spent on tree trimming and removal. Crews work year-round to cycle through trimming our entire system every few years. Tree trimming is also done to minimize tree-related outages.

Imagine this: A branch falls on a power line and creates an arc of electricity that can start the surrounding area on fire. This is what we aim to prevent with our methods of tree trimming.

Another way to minimize the potential of electricity arcing and sparking a fire is through our system protection devices. If the line can be de-energized quickly by blowing a fuse or opening a recloser, we may be able to reduce the size and duration of the arc.

Ongoing maintenance and keeping NLI lines in good repair also help prevent potential fires from starting. Aged poles, crossarms, and cables need to be replaced before they fail. This is done through regular maintenance and replacement cycles on all 2,800 miles of NLI power lines and pieces of equipment.

During peak fire months, NLI crews carry extra equipment on their trucks, such as water containers, shovels and fire suppressants to contain or extinguish a fire. NLI crews often are the first to respond to fires.

Our generation and transmission service provider has its own fire mitigation plans in place. We rely on them to deliver power to NLI. Under extreme circumstances, our provider could de-energize lines to prevent a fire as a safety precaution. Although we do not believe this will happen, it is a possibility. We will communicate this to our members as best we can should it need to be implemented.

As you drive by NLI power lines in your neighborhood, if you see a dangerous tree or branch hanging over a power line or something that looks off with one of our poles or lines, please call so one of our linemen can take a look. Your vigilance may prevent a fire from occurring.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.