Wildfire Prevention

NLI linemen, from left, Dusten Hongslo and Dan Sundstrom replace a power pole in Sagle. Photo by Kristin Metke

With the dry spring we had this year and going into our generally dry summer, the Northern Lights 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 potential impacts from 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 also minimizes 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 deenergized quickly by blowing a fuse or opening a recloser, we may be able to reduce the size and duration of the arc.

Ongoing maintenance also helps 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.

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

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 it to deliver power to NLI. Under extreme circumstances, our provider could deenergize lines to prevent a fire as a safety precaution. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff. Although we do not believe this will happen, it is a possibility. We will inform our members as best we can should a PSPS need to be implemented.

As you drive by NLI power lines in your neighborhood, call us 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. One of our lineworkers can check it out. Your vigilance may prevent a fire.

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