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EWEB crews take to the treetops to thwart hazards

Wildfire prevention measures are underway in many areas across Eugene-Springfield. Currently, that’s taking the form of tree trimming by utility crews.

In the South Hills, a utility worker stood inside a bucket, which was lifted by a crane. With a chainsaw, the man cut down branches almost touching power lines along Fox Hollow Road.

“We make sure to clear away vegetation that’s too close to power lines,” explained EWEB spokesman Aaron Orlowski. “So that during hot dry, windy conditions, when there’s a potential for wildfires, we can make sure that trees and other vegetation are not interacting with the power lines because that can be dangerous.”

The trimmed branches were then collected and fed into a wood chipper.

In a fact sheet issued by EWEB, the utility says every year, crews trim roughly 300 "line miles" of foliage to reduce the risk of falling branches and trees. They also inspect and prune an additional 250 "line miles" in high-risk areas like South Eugene and the McKenzie Valley corridor.

Orlowski said EWEB budgeted $1 million dollars for this fiscal year towards wildfire mitigation, the first time it’s been a budget item.

“We are instituting a program for power lines called protective settings mode,” he added. “This is a setting we put in place during hot dry conditions on certain power lines, so that if there’s some sort of contact with line, it trips off more easily.

Orlowski said EWEB also has a protocol where crews will visually inspect the line before re-energizing it, to help make sure there’s no sparking a fire with damaged equipment.

Meanwhile, work to place more power lines underground continues across Eugene.

Orlowski said there have been lines installed across the South Hills, and another project will soon see more put in just south of Spencer Butte Middle School.

Much of this was prompted by heavy winter storms that caused regional outages over the past five years. But Orlowski says hotter, drier weather has brought its own hazards.

Wildfire mitigation work in Eugene’s South Hills

“The project that we completed in the South Hills was initially a response, to making that sure our system was more resilient, for these ice and snow storms,” he explained. “But it does have a dual benefit, that it helps during wildfire season, to protect from sparking wildfires.”

Orlowski said half of Eugene’s power lines are already underground. EWEB will analyze where more can be installed, though it’s an expensive process.

@2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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