SACRAMENTO (Wire Service) - The California Public Utilities Commission today (Thurs., Jan. 12) established new rules to reduce fire hazards associated with overhead utility lines, with the aim of reducing outbreaks of wildfires like the ones that struck San Diego County in 2007.
"We have sadly seen in recent years the devastation brought on by wildfires in high fire-threat areas of California," said Timothy Alan Simon, a CPUC commissioner. "Today's decision will reduce fire hazard risk associated with overhead power lines and utility pole top communication facilities located in close proximity to power lines."
Several major wildfires around the state in 2007 were sparked by problems with power lines during periods of strong winds. Wires that were blown down caused the devastating Witch Creek and Rice Canyon blazes in San Diego County.
The new rules include increasing vegetation clearance areas, inspecting aerial communications facilities that are close to power lines and recalculating the loads on poles whenever there are significant new installations on them.
Also, utilities will have to submit plans to prevent fires caused by power lines during extreme fire weather events.
"Proper vegetation management and regular inspection, as required by the decision, will play a major role in reducing the risk of such disasters," Simon said. "The rules adopted today will heighten awareness to the need for
continued vigilance in wildfire safety, while advancing policies that will not inhibit investment in electric and communication infrastructure."
He said he hopes the increased use of smart technology in the future will further enhance fire safety.
The Witch Creek fire broke out amid strong Santa Ana winds on Oct. 21, 2007, along state Route 78 between Ramona and Julian, destroying about 1,040 homes and scorching nearly 200,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.
It was made worse when a downed power line touched off another wildfire in the San Pasqual Valley. The two blazes merged and killed two people as flames raced through Rancho Bernardo, destroying 360 homes in that neighborhood
The Rice Canyon fire that started on Oct. 22, 2007, in the Fallbrook area burned nearly 9,500 acres and destroyed 248 structures.