The 2022 wildfire season is almost over. In Washington, it was a relatively mild year, with fewer fires and fewer acres burned than in recent years.
David James, head of wildfire resilience for Avista, told the Utilities and Transportation Commission on Thursday that only four fires in eastern Washington and northern Idaho have damaged infrastructure in the utility last summer, requiring it to replace poles or other equipment.
He says Avista is working to make this infrastructure less vulnerable to fires. In 2022, he says he replaced more than 100 wooden poles with steel versions. It also replaces wooden sleepers with fiberglass.
“Fiberglass sleepers are fantastic because they’re very strong, very hard to break, and that’s why we started installing them, to avoid broken sleepers. But we got that two for because we didn’t we haven’t had pole lights with fiberglass crosspieces,” he said.
Commission members asked James whether Avista’s work focused exclusively on protecting utility assets and whether it also reduced the danger of fire around those assets.
James said the utility, for the first time, is surveying its entire rural coverage area, to identify the places most susceptible to wildfires, by the end of the year.
“We have worked this year, with both the Washington and Idaho fire departments, to clear combustibles in high fire risk areas,” he said.
James says the company has funded projects that have removed trees and brush from about 90 acres of its land and plans to treat another 60 acres by the end of the year. He says he also works with individual landowners on fire prevention.
“We did this on a pilot. We contacted 600 landowners that we know you have trees that we usually prune, and then we asked them, “Would you be interested in cutting down these trees?” ” he said. “We have 870 trees that we have removed. Every tree that we remove from the system is just one less that could come in contact with a power line.”
Overall, James says the utility removed nearly 12,000 trees from its coverage area in 2022.