Article by Rebecca Band
Photos by John Storey
A big, severe drought inevitably leads to a big, severe fire season. The Rocky Fire is the first, but probably not the last, massive fire to sweep through northern California this summer, which means it will be a busy season for the IBEW Local 1245 members at PG&E who work to restore and repair power poles and lines.
On July 29th, the Rocky Fire broke out near Clear Lake in Northern California, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The exceptionally dry and windy weather conditions allowed the wildfire to spread at a breakneck pace, and more than a thousand residents were forced to evacuate as the fire tore through communities in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties. According to NASA, the fire generated so much smoke that it can be seen from space.
To date, the Rocky fire has taken out 43 homes and 53 outbuildings, along with a PG&E transmission line and two distribution circuits. The company reports that the fire scorched 88 power poles; some had burned so badly that they fell down, others were still standing but charred to the point that they were extremely unsafe.
About 100 IBEW Local 1245 members from PG&E were dispatched to the area and worked closely and safely with the first responders, but the rugged, steep terrain made the areas in need of restoration and pole replacement extremely difficult to access.
“We were able to get in here yesterday [August 5th], and we replaced the poles that we could using the line truck. We had a CAT that built us some roads to the poles because most of this is inaccessible,” said Ken Farris, PG&E Electric Crew Foreman out of the Clear Lake yard, while his crew worked nearby. “Today, we have a UTV [utility terrain vehicle], to get down there and help us replace a few more poles. Some of the guys on the other side of this ridge over here, they’re flying in the poles because they can’t get any [vehicles] in. “
As of 8am on August 7th, the Rocky fire had burned more than 69,000 acres and was 45% contained, according to reports from CalFire. 800 people who had been ordered to evacuate were allowed to come back to their homes, and approximately 600 people who live in the area just north of Highway 20 remain evacuated. CalFire anticipates it will take another week before the fire is completely contained.