With no end in sight to California droughts, multiple wildfires continue to rage. Among the 14,000 firefighters grappling with multiple fires across the state, are Vacaville, Calif. Local 1245 members.
Local 1245 represents 11,000 employees of PG&E, the utility responsible for many of the power lines falling victim to the sprawling fires. These workers do everything from handling phone calls to repairing downed lines, sometimes in incredibly difficult terrain. They recently worked on the massive Rocky fire, now contained, that produced so much smoke that NASA reported seeing it from space.
As Rebecca Band reported for Local 1245:
The Rocky Fire is the first, but probably not the last, massive fire to sweep through northern California this summer, which means it will be a busy season for the Local 1245 members at PG&E who work to restore and repair power poles and lines… To date [Aug. 7], the Rocky fire has taken out 43 homes and 53 outbuildings, along with a PG&E transmission line and two distribution circuits. The company reports that the fire scorched 88 power poles; some had burned so badly that they fell down, others were still standing but charred to the point that they were extremely unsafe.
Whenever there is a large-scale fire in Local 1245’s jurisdiction, which spans from Northern California to Reno, Nev., members are called upon to replace damaged utility poles and transmission lines, and to restore power.
|More than 4,300 fires have burned 118,000 acres throughout California. Photo credit: John Storey.
Working conditions are challenging. It is extremely hot and dry with a lot of dust, making dehydration a perpetual issue.
High winds are also an issue, which only fuels the fires. And fires often break out in steep terrain that is accessible only by all-terrain vehicles. Some terrain is so treacherous that it is completely impassible by land, meaning replacement poles and wires have to be flown in by helicopter, said a Local 1245 foreman.
Earlier this year, the local was called in to help with a fire in the Modesto Irrigation District that was so strong it crossed three counties. When workers managed to gain access to the area, they were met with smoke and ash so toxic it caused nausea and vomiting, and heat so intense it melted their boots, said an article on the Local 1245 website.
In addition to the repairs and restoration of power, Local 1245 members work to prevent damage before fires begin, pre-treating poles with a flame-retardant spray.
Wildfire season can last until the late fall, making it likely there will be more large-scale wildfires this season, Band said.
Read more from Local 1245 about the Rocky fire here and the Modesto Irrigation District here.
Homepage photo credit: FEMA/ Andrea Booher accessed via Wikimedia Commons.