BPA crews clear 4,300 trees in 10 weeks, or more than 85 per day, to reduce threats to transmission reliability due to the Bolt Creek Fire near Skykomish, Washington.

Effective post-wildfire management is essential to maintaining transmission reliability.

Chuck Sheppard, Vegetation Management and Forestry manager

Bolt Creek Fire

Smeared soot from charred trees, grass and other vegetation covers the Bonneville Power Administration vegetation management crew. The chalky, gritty black powder is fused with a coarse crystalized white mineral, salt, and smeared on their faces, arms, clothes – almost everything – as they remove thousands of fire-damaged trees to keep the lights on.

Removing vegetation from around rights-of-way can be dirty and sweaty work, but when you combine that with a raging wildfire, it can be downright filthy.

“Vegetation Management can be a dirty job anytime throughout the year,” said Chris Morse, supervisory natural resource specialist. “During the Bolt Creek Fire, the working conditions were even more difficult due to the excessive smoke, exceedingly steep terrain and warm weather. However, removing fire-damaged trees before they fall into BPA transmission lines drastically reduces the risk of future power outages caused by this wildfire.”

The human-caused Bolt Creek Fire started Sept. 9 and ravaged more than 15,000 acres, about a third of the size of Washington, D.C., near Skykomish, Washington. It burned along and underneath the Chief Joseph-Monroe No. 1 and the Chief Joseph-Snohomish No. 3 and 4 transmission lines, devastating 20 miles of vegetation along the transmission corridor.

“Effective post-wildfire management is essential to maintaining transmission reliability,” said Chuck Sheppard, Vegetation Management and Forestry manager. “The lessons learned from this year’s Bolt Creek Fire taught us how to deal with new vegetation management scenarios, which is important as we expand our wildfire response capabilities at BPA.”

Jake Grinolds, natural resource specialist in BPA’s Snohomish district, coordinated the vegetation management and forestry response, which included managing 21 contractors who cut and lopped limbs off the trees. His crew removed 4,300 trees in 10 weeks, or more than 85 per day during a five-day work week.

“Jake did an amazing job during this response to the wildfire,” said Morse, Grinolds’ direct supervisor. “He ensured his crew was safe and recorded zero accidents, which is impressive considering the hazardous conditions on the ground that included falling severely damaged and compromised trees, most of them over 150 feet tall.”

When fire activity diminished six weeks later with the help of colder weather and precipitation, the Southeast Washington Type 3 Incident Management Team transferred responsibility of the fire to the Washington Department of Natural Resources, essentially ending BPA’s major fire response activity.

Now, BPA crews will have to carefully monitor this section over the upcoming winter months. If storms topple more trees that hit lines, BPA crews will need to respond quickly.

Vegetation Management Program
When a fire damages trees, BPA must first assess which trees pose a threat to transmissions lines, and then it must determine who owns it. While easements usually give BPA rights under and along the transmission lines and other infrastructure, BPA does not own the trees outside of its transmission corridors.

BPA has 10 natural resource specialists who manage their respective maintenance districts. This involves identifying vegetation, such as tall trees or bushes, within a right-of-way that could cause damage, and keeping towers and structures clear of vegetation. The natural resource specialists also target “danger trees," which are trees outside of the agency's rights-of-way that are damaged, dead or dying that could potentially fall and damage BPA's transmission equipment or facilities, or otherwise interfere with grid reliability.

Learn more about the Vegetation Management and Forestry team.

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