California Virus War Slams Into Its Other Crisis: Wildfires
Apr 29, 2020 at 10:50pm
A crisis California didn’t foresee -- the Covid-19 pandemic -- is complicating preparations for one that arrives with a vengeance every year.
With wildfire season on the horizon, state officials have ordered prevention efforts to proceed after rains have tapered off and before the heat of summer. But work is progressing slower than usual as firefighting agencies and electric utilities institute new practices to keep employees safe.
Social-distancing requirements complicates many of the tasks, including trimming trees near power lines, clearing brush around homes, setting small, controlled fires and replacing old utility poles that could snap in strong winds. Plus, crews must contend with virus-anxious residents not wanting them anywhere near their property. The result is California faces more challenges than ever to stave off deadly wildfires that have grown fiercer by the year as climate change and scant rain this season have turned the state yet again into a massive tinderbox.
“We’re really facing an experience that’s unprecedented,” said Bill Chiu, managing director of grid modernization and resiliency at Edison International’s Southern California Edison utility. “It’s certainly adding an extra layer of complexity to what we do.”
The U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns and in-person training for firefighters, with no firm timetable to resume. Los Angeles County, where millions of residents are working from home, at one point ordered utilities to stop work that could temporarily interrupt power to residences, forcing Edison to rethink some of its fire-season preparations.
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