News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Utilities develop plans to prevent future wildfires

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Electric utilities across Oregon have filed wildfire mitigation plans designed to prevent wildfires and mitigate their risk.

The plans are required by Senate Bill 762, which passed in the 2021 legislative session, The bill was designed to serve as a comprehensive wildfire preparedness and resiliency bill amid the fires that have plagued the state in the past few years, including the Labor Day 2020 blazes that affected huge swathes of the Santiam Canyon.

In addition to the work on power systems, the bill also authorized work on wildfire risk maps, defensible space, land use, building codes, health systems for smoke, emergency response and disaster recovery and wildfire response capacity. 

The Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Riverside fires, which combined to form the Santiam Fire that burned more than 400,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,500 buildings, were caused by lightning and downed utility lines.

SB 762 established formal standards for electric utility wildfire mitigation plans, including the information utilities such as Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and NW Natural are required to include. Plans must identify areas at high-risk for wildfires within the utility’s service territory and actions to minimize those risks, as well as protocols for implementing public safety power shutoffs (PSPS). 

Shutoffs, in which a utility pre-emptively shuts off the power, take place in an effort to prevent fires when high winds threaten to cause trees or debris to damage electric lines and cause wildfires.

“As we anticipate higher than average temperatures in the (summer), we appreciate that Oregon electric utilities have gone through the planning process to prepare for a possible PSPS,” said Letha Tawney, commissioner of the state Public Utility Commission, which regulates state utilities. “No utility utilizes a PSPS lightly, but their implementation plans are designed to help keep Oregonians informed and safe in extreme fire weather.” 

The PUC, other state officials and the utilities also have developed tips on being ready for wildfire season, preparing for a PSPS event and what to do during a power outage.

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