Commission Is Briefed on City’s Efforts to Extinguish Wildfire Danger

Measures that are being taken by La Cañada Flintridge and a regional utility company to prevent wildfires were outlined during a city Public Safety Commission meeting this week.
Chris Carey, LCF’s emergency services coordinator, explained Monday how the city plans to prevent power lines from creating fires. Questions from Commissioner Thomas Schafer had prompted the meeting at City Hall.
Southern California Edison owns and maintains all of the electrical transmission facilities and equipment that serve LCF, Carey said, and the California Public Utilities Commission regulates the company. On private property, the city can place regulations on the placement of service extension lines that run from SCE delivery points, Carey said. New development and remodels that meet certain requirements require utility equipment to be placed underground, he said.
For the private component of new development or a large remodel, “there’s a requirement to underground that segment from the end of Edison transmission to the home — basically, that last portion of the line going to the home,” said Carl Alameda, the city’s director of administrative services. “In the past, in commercial, we’ve encouraged it through grant funding available. We have [federal] Community Development Block Grant funding” that has been used for “a lot of the stuff on Foothill [Boulevard].”
The Ventura County Fire Department recently said SCE was responsible for starting the 2017 Thomas Fire, which burned nearly 282,000 acres across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Downed SCE power lines caused the blaze, according to the department.
To prevent future fires, SCE has a program to test and, if necessary, replace power poles that may have been damaged, Carey said. SCE developed the program to inspect all SCE poles and poles shared with another utility because of a CPUC decision in 2012. The utility is replacing an average of 35,000 utility poles annually statewide under the program, Carey said.
Another way SCE tries to stop blazes is through public safety power shutoffs, in which the company preemptively shuts off electricity in high-risk fire areas amid possibly dangerous weather conditions, Carey said.
The utility operates two separate vegetation-maintenance programs, including a grid pruning effort and a line clearance program. In the grid program, Carey said, SCE clears vegetation that is in contact with or near their equipment within the city. The line clearance program involves more aggressive clearance of vegetation from Edison equipment and follows new guidance from the CPUC, Carey said.
Before the more aggressive program starts, Carey said, SCE was asked to provide a public workshop for the city, though there can be an exception if the vegetation management issue is a significant threat to public safety.
A public meeting with Southern California Edison about the aggressive tree trimming is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, April 8 at Lanterman Auditorium, Carey said.
Additionally, SCE publishes materials with titles such as “The Right Tree, the Right Place” for making informed tree and landscaping selections to ensure that vegetation that is planted is appropriate for a specific purpose or location, Carey said.
Other fire prevention efforts include the 2019 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan that the city recently submitted to the state. It includes information and resources to help residents and officials plan for future disasters like wildfires and floods, Carey said. LCF also works closely with SCE representatives about preventing hazards.
Carey said residents can help such efforts in various ways, including complying with LCF, SCE and Los Angeles County Fire Department guidelines on brush clearance on their properties, especially near electrical infrastructure, informing the utility and the city about hazards on their property and inviting inspection.
A September seminar at Descanso Gardens on fire-safe landscape recommended that vegetation be cleared within at least 100 feet of a home — an area called defensible space.
During disasters, the AlertLCF system — through which the city can contact individuals by phone, text message, or email — can help residents who have signed up for the service to stay informed of emergencies, Carey said. Staff members are also refining the city’s public alert and warning policy that includes AlertLCF, social media releases, outdoor warning systems and vehicle public address systems.
An evacuation order would result in all methods of messaging, while a power outage would result in coordination with L.A. County to request more resources from the Sheriff’s Department and Public Works, according to a commission statement. The Sheriff’s Department can provide vehicle public address systems, knock on doors and send wireless emergency alerts to cell phones. Public Works can use electronic message boards.
LCF is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acquire the capability to send wireless alerts through its AlertLCF software, called Everbridge, at no additional cost to the city, according to the statement. In Angeles National Forest, where cellphone service is poor, staff members have started researching the use of an outdoor warning system like a siren or voice speaker.
“I’d like us to try to open some communication with SCE … to get what some of those key metrics for success are, what’s some of the timing for implementation, when can we say La Cañada will have upgraded circuits, so that we can as a group here measure whether we can move forward,” Schafer said.

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