Wildfire season is upon us and 2021 is shaping up to be the worst year yet. Over two million acres have burned in over 7,000 fires—and it’s only September.
Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend. Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and drier conditions all play a role. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), there were 700 more wildfires and over 103,000 more acres burned in the beginning of this year compared to the same period in 2020.
Power lines are one of the main culprits of sparked wildfires in California. As the operator of Hetch Hetchy Power, the City’s Public Power Utility, and its 162.5 miles of electrical lines spanning Yosemite to the Bay Area, the SFPUC recognizes the importance of preparing for wildfire season.
California requires utilities like the SFPUC to prepare and submit a wildfire mitigation plan to the California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board (WSAB) every year. The plan details how the agency minimizes the risk its power lines and other facilities could cause, or contribute to, a catastrophic wildfire.
The SFPUC relies on several prevention strategies and programs all year round to prevent wildfires.
- Vegetation Management: The SFPUC relies on two teams, which include professional foresters, arborists, and labor crews to inspect and maintain vegetation near all agency-owned transmission and distribution systems.
- Facility Inspections: The agency monitors all 834 transmission structures, 1,744 distribution poles, and five substations or switchyards, either through aerial patrols or detailed ground inspections.
- Situational Awareness: The SFPUC monitors its overhead lines and weather conditions 24/7 via cameras, weather stations, and forecast models from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
- System Hardening: The SFPUC is exploring several options to update equipment like replacing copper conductors with aluminum wire and moving overhead lines underground where vegetation risks cannot be reasonably mitigated to prevent an accidental spark.
- Coordination with Other Agencies and Stakeholders: The SFPUC regularly collaborates with Cal Fire, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and emergency services agencies to plan and implement wildfire protection activities.
You can prepare for a wildfire, too. While the risk is low in San Francisco, learn how to prepare for wildfire season and public safety power shutoffs to ensure you and your family are ready.