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Michael J. Sykes: 'We have enacted a number of measures to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading in our area.'

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Michael J. SykesWildfires in the Pacific Northwest have been increasing in frequency and severity over the last few years and have devastated many communities in their path. At Columbia River PUD, we have enacted a number of measures to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading in our area.

Adding equipment and removing trees are two of the most visible ways we are working on this. We are adding more and more re-closers to our system. Re-closers are pieces of equipment that are designed to quickly de-energize wires during red flag and other high-risk conditions, reducing the likelihood of a wildfire.

We are aggressively managing vegetation around our electric system. We contract with Asplundh for two tree crews year-round to trim or remove trees that are growing too close to power lines. You may see them removing trees in your neighborhood.

In addition to mitigating wildfire danger, removing trees also helps protect against outages during winter storms and high winds. Trees are one of the leading causes of power outages in our service territory. Trimming and removing trouble trees helps ensure your lights stay on.

We are also working on developing a mulching program. We plan to mulch in areas with thick vegetation under power lines. If you are interested in being placed on our mulching list or have a hazardous tree, please contact us at 503-397-1844. This service is provided at no additional cost to the customer.

Please do not trim trees that are growing near your service line. This is very dangerous and puts you at risk for deadly electrical shock.

Moving power lines underground is another tactic we employ. Currently about 25% of our primary distribution line is underground. Installing underground lines is a costly venture, though. It costs more than three times as much as installing overhead lines.

In a worst-case scenario, we may need to preemptively shut off power to our customers if extreme weather threatens our ability to operate safely during fire season. This is known as a Public Safety Power Shutoff, or PSPS. If a PSPS is required, we will do everything we can to notify all affected customers and to minimize its duration.

Michael J. Sykes is general manager of the Columbia River People's Utility District.


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