While fires blazed and firefighters struggled to contain the Silver Fire that burned through homes and buildings near Banning, Calif., Southern California Edison (SCE) mobilized to be ready to make repairs and safely restore power to the more than 240 affected customers as soon as crews were allowed access to the damaged area.
The first step in restoring power was assessing the damage. Starting on Thursday afternoon, SCE’s early assessment team scouted the area looking at overhead lines, poles and equipment in the fire’s path. Next, several teams did a more in-depth look at the system and along with engineers, gathered information about the condition of the infrastructure. This data would be used to develop work orders for the crews to make proper repairs.
Along the way, Kelly Whittemore, an SCE regional manager from Wildomar, found a pole burnt almost all the way through. As a safety precaution — even though the wires were still providing electricity to 27 homes in the area — SCE de-energized the line so that if the wind blew the pole over, the power would be off.
“A gust of wind could bring those live wires down, causing additional disruptions to the system, safety hazards and even another fire,” Whittemore said.
Meanwhile, at the SCE emergency operations center, planners were busy arranging resources and logistics for the crews to make repairs and coordinating with fire officials and local authorities. SCE thanked the Fire Department for saving many of the poles and equipment from fire damage.
“Having professionals in the field, like our linemen and planners, helps us make effective and efficient decisions that lead to faster restoration for our customers,” said Greg Smith, the incident commander for SCE’s Silver Fire response. “SCE’s use of the Incident Command System to manage these events maximizes coordination within our operations, with the local authorities and with firefighting officials.”
Planning for the repair and restoration of power requires knowledge of infrastructure in the area and identifying the damaged areas that could slow down safe and timely restoration. Planners and technicians need to map out a strategy that identifies the priorities to allow the most customers to have their power restored while always putting their safety first.
In the Silver Fire area, that meant planning for restoration of the main line from the source and then focusing on restoration of tap lines — smaller offshoots — that feed directly into homes.
While the mapping and strategy sessions took place, a different group of employees started lining up the logistics and resources needed to make those repairs.
Staging areas were located, closely coordinating with local authorities and fire officials, and the materials such as poles, wires, demolition equipment, transformers and other equipment were ordered and transported. Troublemen and line crews were notified for pre-staging and resource planners began contacting local hotels and caterers to house and feed the coming crews — to sustain them through their 16-hour work periods.
Medical and safety plans were also drawn up — ensuring the crews and all personnel working on the incident kept safety as their first priority. In the event there was an injury, everyone knew how and where to get medical attention.
Once public safety officials lifted the evacuation, residents were eager to get back to their homes — but the lights were still out. SCE crews worked as safely and quickly as possible to turn the lights back on. Trucks could be seen throughout the area, replacing 45-foot poles, transformers, wires and necessary equipment.
The main line into the area was a critical factor for the restoration. On Friday, assessment teams identified two important pole structures, called H-frames, at the beginning of the line that were badly damaged in the fire and needed to be replaced. These poles were located in an extremely remote location inaccessible by vehicle. This meant that helicopters were needed to airlift the poles and equipment into the area and crews had to hike on foot.
Planners worked to get permission to fly in the area, which was restricted for firefighting efforts. SCE crews started early Saturday morning to dig four six-foot holes in the rugged, rocky soil so poles could be set into them once they were flown in. That afternoon, poles were lifted from the base camp by helicopter to the remote site and crews began placing them and energizing the system, section by section.
Most customers in the area had their power restored by Saturday evening. Some crews stayed on site to work on the remaining pockets that required additional repairs. Once the last of the damage was repaired, staging areas were cleared and exhausted crews were sent home. Final briefings and reports were filed, and the SCE team went back to their regular job of safely providing reliable electricity to its customers.