NORTH FORK — Firefighters from the Rancheria Cal Fire Station in North Fork played a different kind of role in fire protection last Thursday when their sharp situational awareness headed off what could have led to disastrous results.
Just after 12:30 p.m. Engine 4255 had made its way to the end of Duke Road just off Road 200 and was turning around when Engineer Nathan Hoehn caught sight of something in the rear view mirror. It was a power line that just didn’t look right.
“We saw a wire that was hanging about 20 feet lower than the rest,” says Hoehn, “so we parked the engine and got out to have a look.”
That’s when they saw that a crossbeam had broken on a power pole and a live wire was hanging down, just feet off the ground and inches from the vegetation.
The crew immediately called PG&E who responded in short order and shut off the power, which affected about 145 customers. After the necessary repairs were made, power was restored at about 4:30 p.m.
Lisa Clark, who lives in the home next to the power pole, says a PG&E repairman told her that an insulator had come loose from a wooden crossbeam that had rotted, and landed on a stabilizing wire.
“If a gust of wind had blown it loose from the guy wire, it would have started a fire,” says Lisa. She was informed that the pole had been inspected and was scheduled to be replaced in November. The new cross beam installed on this day by PG&E is fiberglass, not wood, she says.
PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles says the company has doubled their inspection of power lines from once a year to twice, in response to the massive problem of tree mortality. As anyone who lives in the Central Sierra has witnessed, they also have contractors out in force identifying and removing dead trees that threaten power lines.
On July 21, the company announced an expanded debris management program wherein they will haul away large woody debris and logs from private property when they take down hazard trees, at no cost to the customer. Click here for details on that program.
Lisa, in fact, has 14 dead pines and 2 oaks that are scheduled for removal, and is very grateful that this incident didn’t result in a fire with those huge torches standing so close to the house. While she has gone to great lengths to clear defensible space and have water, pumps, a generator and hoses ready for the worst case scenario, this was disaster avoided, she says, thanks to the Rancheria firefighters.
“I’m so grateful,” she says, “and just happy I’m not picking through my burned out stuff. It’s just a miracle that insulator caught on the guy wire, and that those firefighters just happened to be on our road and spotted it.”
While the outage did shut down power — and thus air conditioning — for several hours in dozens of households on one of the hottest days of the year, that’s a small inconvenience when weighed against the alternative.
After handling the live wire situation on Duke Road, the crew from Engine 4255 was off to a medical aid, a vegetation fire, an assist to Fresno County, and topped off their day with a vehicle crash on Road 200 that resulted in a roadside fire at three o’clock in the morning. They did get a few hours of sleep before the Fork Fire broke out.
The crew on Engine 4255 on Thursday consisted of Firefighters Tim Ayuso, Erik Sotelo and William Green, and Fire Apparatus Engineer Nathan Hoehn.
Anyone who has spent any time around our firefighters knows that while others are panicking, they go about their jobs with deliberation and discipline, no matter the chaos breaking out around them.
When the gratitude of Lisa and her family was expressed to Engineer Hoehn, he was true to form in his response.
“We’re glad we could help her out,” he said.
To learn more about what PG&E is doing to assist with debris removal when they take down trees on your property, click here.
To learn more about managing trees and plants near power poles, click here.