Hometown utility company goes extra mile to prevent wildfire damage

DNR trains Avista Utilities to use GIS data layering to prioritize the management of vegetation that grows under power lines

Who pays attention to what kind of vegetation is under our power lines? Spokane’s Avista Utilities sure does, and they’re working to keep their power lines from causing the next destructive wildfire.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is working with Avista Utilities and their contractor, CN Utility Consulting, to develop a system that prioritizes the management of vegetation under power lines. This system will focus extra effort on power lines in areas with high wildfire risk using a system that includes ground data collection as well as Geographic Information System (GIS) layers. 

Power lines can cause major wildfires on public and private lands that DNR protects from wildfire. Strong winds can blow trees over onto power lines, causing wildfires. As the wind continues to blow, it fans the flames and causes the wildfires to spread quickly.

The most extreme example of this occurrence was October 16, 1991, when gusty winds of more than 60 miles per hour hit several counties in Eastern Washington. Identified as Firestorm ’91, Washington had more than 90 fire starts that day, lost 114 homes and 2 lives. How many of those 90 fire starts were cause by power lines? Eighty-nine!

The goal of this project is to prevent power line-caused fires by using a coordinated and systematic approach based on fire behavior and any features that add risk to that area, such as fire history, difficult access, etc.

In addition, Avista customers will be much happier if they don’t lose power because trees fall on power lines.

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