PUD Installs Equipment to Help with Wildfire Mitigation

As wildfires continue to be an increasing threat to the Pacific Northwest, we are continuing to increase our efforts to combat against damaging blazes.

Accurate weather data is a vital tool we rely on in our efforts to mitigate destructive wildfires. We recently purchased and installed a Remote Automatic Weather Station (RAWS) in St. Helens to help in this regard. Oregon Department of Forestry, our partner for this project, will maintain the RAWS now that it is up and running.

The weather station will provide valuable data to us and other agencies in Columbia County. This unit provides timely weather data like temperature, humidity levels, and wind speeds that help assist in fire management. The data collected is then transmitted to the National Weather Service, where it is available to the public.

The data collected by the RAWS is used by fire managers to predict fire behavior and monitor fuels. It can also help us determine if we need to execute a public safety power shutoff (PSPS).

A PSPS occurs when we preemptively turn off power to customers due to extreme weather threatening our ability to operate our equipment safely. So far we have not had to use this option and it will only happen as a last resort. A more accurate reading of local weather conditions will benefit us when the time comes for us to make such a decision.

Before the installation of this RAWS, there was only one in Columbia County and it is in Mist. Because weather conditions can differ in different parts of the county, we have not always been able to receive the most accurate weather information for our service area. Adding this RAWS increases our accuracy.

Other stations are being installed elsewhere in the county.

As time goes on, the RAWS will store historical weather data. This information will help determine weather trends that the National Weather Service can use when issuing Red Flag Warnings.

The data will allow us to create our own risk assessments. These assessments can help us decide whether we need to make any changes to our operations. Currently, we make modifications to our electric system if we are under a Red Flag Warning.

Under normal circumstances, when a branch falls on a power line, the power is disrupted momentarily and then attempts to come back on. Typically, if a branch brushes a power line and falls off, power will blink off and then quickly return to normal.

During a Red Flag Warning, we modify our system so that any time a branch falls onto a line, power is automatically shut off. This decreases the risk of a fallen branch causing a spark that might ignite a fire.

We are continuing to do everything we can to proactively fight against the threat of wildfire. The purchase of this RAWS is an investment in the safety of our community.