Playing it Safe During Fire Season
You undoubtedly remember Labor Day weekend 2020, when wildfires swept through Oregon and caused significant damage to property and lives. Douglas Electric Cooperative's neighboring utilities were hit particularly hard. Our service area was fortunate to avoid the devastation other areas of Douglas County and Oregon suffered.
At the time, DEC’s system was already set at its most sensitive levels due to our own evaluation of the potential fire threat. We think our proactive approach—combined with investment in vegetation management and the outstanding efforts of Douglas Forest Protective Association, Coos Forest Protective Association and other firefighting agencies—helped keep fire away from our systems.
Each outage we experienced that weekend, when our systems were set to sensitive, could have been a fire ignition. Normally, our systems can recover from these incidental events without causing an outage. In fire season, our systems turn off the power until we can investigate.
Similarly, this last Labor Day weekend and several days after, we set our system to sensitive. Because of this increased sensitivity, we experienced more unplanned outages than usual. As many as three outages occurred in a short period of time for some of our members. You didn't like it at all. We hated it, too.
Although these outages may be inconvenient and frustrating, we are trying to keep everyone safe. Unfortunately, reducing fire danger also means reducing your service reliability.
Having spent a career trying to keep the lights on, I feel conflicted during fire season. Setting the system to a point where a squirrel could cause a significant outage does not sit well with me. When fire season is in full swing, it can, however, be the safer option.
On rare occasions, shutting down proactively by enacting a Public Safety Power Shutoff is the safest option. Neither option is appealing to us, but when safety is at stake, we will not compromise.
It is likely our protective system will be set to the highest level of sensitivity during fire seasons in the future. We will continue to investigate ways to improve and harden our systems to minimize outages. If the drought continues, these proactive events will be a part of life in our region, regardless of which utility you use. It is imperative that we all prepare now for when outages occur. Make a plan.
I also have an update on the new DEC headquarters at 1981 NE Stephens St. Due to supply chain issues, we expect to open in late October.