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By Indiana Reed
Special to The SUN
With continuing dry conditions, high temperatures and blustery winds predicted for the region, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) operations personnel have implemented a series of enhanced safety measures in response to these conditions to help ensure that electrical equipment damage or repair efforts don’t contribute to the current fire danger.
“Safety is a number one priority for LPEA and our crews,” said Steve Gregg, manager of operations. “We all lived through the Missionary Ridge/Falls Creek fires, so we’re being proactive to be part of the protection efforts this year. What this may mean with our new safety steps and checks is that, in the event of an outage, it will take us a little longer to restore power, and we hope our customers will understand.”
LPEA traditionally has line personnel on standby throughout the night — one Journeyman Lineman in Durango, Bayfield/Ignacio and Pagosa Springs — but to enhance response time during the heightened fire danger, the entire 21-man line crew in La Plata and Archuleta counties has stepped up to be on call, and if an outage is spotted in a given area, the lineman living closest to the fault will be the first called and first to respond.
“This will shorten our response time, which could be very important if a fire has been sparked,” said Gregg. “We are also coordinating closely with county emergency personnel so we can be ready and in place if a larger forest fire is approaching our electrical system, such as a distribution line, transmission line or substation.”
“We’re also asking our customers to be aware — be our eyes,” said Justin Talbot, line superintendent. “If you’ve got an outage, go outside and survey your property, as well as your neighbors’, for downed power lines, smoke or a visible fire. If you see anything, call 911 immediately — then call LPEA.”
At a site where damage has prompted an outage, linemen will do extra patrols of the affected section of line to make sure no other flammable objects are touching the electrical equipment. Only then will the all clear be given and the line re-energized. The linemen will then remain at the location to ensure no embers are smoldering.
“This extra step, due to the dry conditions, will result in longer outage times. We’d rather err on the side of mitigating fire danger,” said Gregg. “All our vehicles are now also equipped with watering systems to douse any sparked fires.”
In a similar effort, LPEA’s contracted tree trimming crews, which are currently working in Archuleta County, are being asked to remain in their work areas following the last use of a chain saw to ensure that they have sparked no fires.
“And customers living in wooded areas, please look up — look at the trees that are near the electrical lines,” said Talbot. “If you notice large branches that could potentially fall through the lines on a windy day, or a dead tree in the right-of-way, give us a call. We will come check it out and if it is a potential hazard, we can take care of it.”