Keeping Communities Safe From Possible Wildfires

With wind speeds up to 88 mph and an elevated risk for a wildfire, SCE made the difficult decision to turn off power to some customers in Mammoth in mid-September.

As Dan Face made his way north on Highway 395 after starting his drive in Irwindale, he began to see the increasing strength of the winds from his truck the closer he got to Mammoth, his eventual destination.

A few hours before, Face — a member of Southern California Edison’s Fire Management team — was deployed by the utility’s incident commander to this rural area that had seen its power shut off due to high winds and an elevated risk for a catastrophic wildfire.

With wind gusts reaching 88 mph in some areas, the utility had made the difficult decision to proactively de-energize about 14,500 customers temporarily in Mammoth and the majority of Mono County in mid-September as part of its Public Safety Power Shutoff program to reduce the possibility of wildfires. Most power was restored within 13 hours.

“We did not turn power off just because it was windy. It was an unusually strong wind event,” said Face, a former SCE troubleman in the Mammoth area who has fire experience with the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service. “This was the largest PSPS de-energization that we have done to date.”

“My belief is there was a high likelihood that we prevented something bad from happening,” he added. “We did the right thing. No doubt in my mind.”

An SCE crew.
An SCE crew.

A total of 35 two-man SCE crews from 20 different districts throughout its service area were deployed to Mammoth in preparation of re-energizing the affected area once patrol crews and weather conditions deemed it safe. The crews were also ready to make any needed repairs resulting from the damaging winds that had been blowing branches and debris into power lines.

As Face arrived at SCE’s service center in Mammoth, he was greeted by Jon Lum, the utility’s district manager in the area for the past five years and an SCE employee for 30 years. Lum was already assessing the damage — including some damaged or downed power poles — and coordinating repair plans with the crew members.

“We are in a rural area so we are more intimate with the customers here,” said Lum, who has close relationships with his neighbors and business owners in the area. “When our goal is to always keep the lights on, this exercise [of PSPS] can be painful. But we are doing the responsible thing to keep these communities safe by turning off the lights temporarily.”

When SCE considers a possible PSPS event, the utility will work to notify customers 48 hours before a possible de-energization every 24 hours that a customer’s circuit remains under watch. When possible, SCE also notifies affected customers when power is proactively turned off and always when the lights come back on. Regular updates throughout the process are provided via the company’s website, SCE.com.

We did not turn power off just because it was windy. It was an unusually strong wind event. This was the largest PSPS de-energization that we have done to date. My belief is there was a high likelihood that we prevented something bad from happening. We did the right thing. No doubt in my mind."

Dan Face, SCE Fire Management Team

As SCE crews worked through the night in Mammoth, about 80% of the affected customers had their power restored by 2 a.m. The remaining customers had their power back up by 5 p.m. the next day after repairs to damaged equipment were completed and all circuits were inspected and cleared to be safely returned to service.

Face noted that as part of SCE’s maintenance of its power lines, equipment goes through several maintenance cycles, including enhanced overhead inspections. To date, all of SCE’s equipment in high fire risk areas have gone through these enhanced overhead inspections. In addition, in-house meteorologists and a fire scientist use detailed weather station reports and databases to assess an area’s elevated risk for fire weather.

“This is an area that gets a lot of wind. But this would have been a strong event even for this area,” said Face, noting that the local SCE district covers an area more than 100 miles long.

“As the district manager here, I am grateful for SCE’s Incident Management Team and our meteorologists. The teamwork was unbelievable. They helped us make the right decision. Without that, who knows what the outcome would have been,” said Lum, who was grateful for the coordinated companywide response.

“Though we know how hard it was on our customers, PSPS worked,” he added. “It worked 100%.”

For more information about PSPS and to sign up for outage alerts, visit SCE.com/PSPS.