Inland Power modifies power poles to help prevent wildfires

SPOKANE, Wash. — We are in fire season and power companies are trying to make sure their power lines don’t cause a wildfire. However, their efforts could mean more power outages for you to deal with.

Inland Power is now into what it calls “fire safety mode.” Tools on the power poles called “reclosers” are apart of this mode.

“Under normal circumstances when we don’t have fire season they [reclosers] are set to trip three times before opening fully and causing an outage,” said Andy Barth, community relations officer at Inland Power.

10% of these reclosers are in what is called non-reclose status. This means if something falls on it, the pole only tries to get power back on once before shutting it off, rather than three times. This is the first year Inland Power is making this change.

Avista does something similar called “dry land mode,” though they have not started it yet this year.

The reclosers are switched to the one-trip method in specific areas. Inland Power works with the Department of Natural Resources and the National Weather Service to pinpoint where they should only trip once.

“Very dry areas are what we’re looking at and also looking at regions that typically get very high wind in conjunction with those dry areas,” Barth said.

Because some poles will shut off faster, people may lose power more often and be without it for even longer.

“The reason why we say that it could be a longer outage is because once our system detects that it’s out our crews have to come and patrol every inch of line and make sure that everything is safe to restore,” Barth said.

However, he said this is safety measure is necessary.

Last Labor Day, a previously damaged tree fell on an Avista power line in Malden, destroying most of the town. However, Avista said in a statement that it does not believe the fires were caused by deficiencies in equipment, maintenance activities or vegetation management practices.

DNR Report: Damaged tree branch fell on Avista power line, starting devastating Malden wildfire

“While it may be an inconvenient time, we really want to make sure that everyone is safe when it comes to wildfire season,” Barth said.

With dry conditions changing daily, Barth said they can change other reclosers and make them shut off power quicker, if necessary.

Inland Power plans to keep this plan in place until we are out of fire season. Avista told 4 News Now, “We monitor the USFS Fire Threat data from its fire lab in Missoula MT to inform our decision to enact it [dry land mode]. We will send a press release and a customer email when we do switch into dry land mode.”

READ: Looking to escape wildfire smoke in WA this year? A new tool could help