Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) officials said Friday the company played a significant role in helping spot and report wildfires before they could become larger, thanks to daily flights conducted over much of the company’s service area in the past four months.
From late June through late October, PG&E completed daily air patrols to spot fires in five regions in northern and central California. During the time period when PG&E operated the flights as part of its drought emergency response, the patrols spotted 142 fires and, in seven instances, were the first to report the fire to Cal Fire or the U.S. Forest Service. This is the third year of the program; 146 fires were spotted in 2015.
Early detection of smoke or fire allows fire agencies to quickly respond to accurate locations and put out fires before they spread.
In all, more than 2,800 hours of flight time were recorded. PG&E used four fixed-wing aircraft to fly from Redding to Auburn in the north, from Auburn to Auberry in the Central Valley, from Vacaville to Solvang along the Central Coast, from Redding to Humboldt to Lake County, and funded the Mendocino County Aerial Fire Patrol Co-Operative over Mendocino County on the North Coast. The patrols flew from 3 p.m. until dusk – the time of day when wildfires are most likely to ignite because hot, dry weather is at its peak.
“The early detection and reporting of wildfires gives us the ability to dispatch resources quickly, and provides us the best opportunity to save lives, property and natural resources,” said Chief Dave Teter, Cal Fire’s Deputy Director of Fire Protection. “We appreciate the efforts of PG&E’s daily air patrols over these past few months.”
“Thanks to these daily air patrols, PG&E has been able to help firefighting agencies locate fires in remote areas and to put them out quickly,” said Pat Hogan, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Transmission and Distribution. “This is just one of the ways that we are supporting our customers and our communities during this unprecedented drought.”
Through early November, Cal Fire has responded to more than 5,600 wildfires this year, scorching more than 147,000 acres. During the same period in 2015, according to Cal Fire, more than 307,000 acres burned. California fire season can last six to eight months, and some parts of the state are vulnerable year-round. And despite some early-season storms, it remains unclear how much rain and snow we will receive this fall and winter.
In addition to the daily air patrols, PG&E continues to be steadfast in its efforts to prevent or lessen the impact of wildfires as part of its drought emergency response plan, officials said, including:
☆·Conducting enhanced ground and air patrols to inspect, prune, or remove dead or dying trees that could fall into power lines and spark a fire. This includes use of LiDAR (light detecting and ranging) and spectral imagery patrols.
☆ Funding 20 local Fire Safe Councils for fuel reduction, emergency access, and defensible space projects. This is the third consecutive year PG&E has partnered with Cal Fire and local councils. PG&E provided funding for 45 shovel-ready project ins 20 high-fire risk counties throughout our service area to help reduce the risk of wildfires.
☆ Providing support and maintenance funding for remote cameras in lookout towers for early fire detection. PG&E funded remote cameras in 2014 and 2015.
PG&E is supporting Cal Fire’s Prepare for Bark Beetle public awareness campaign. According to Cal Fire, more than 90% of all wildfires in California are sparked by people, and are therefore preventable. In addition, bark beetles are killing millions of trees in California, greatly increasing the risk of wildfire. The U.S. Forest Service estimated in June that 66 million trees have died in California since 2010. Homeowners can reduce risk by removing dead trees on their property and properly maintaining healthy trees by pruning and watering as necessary.