Topping trees, maintaining a 12-foot vegetation clearance around all power lines and shutting off electricity during threatening wind events — such measures are part of a “new normal” Southern California Edison recommends for high-risk fire areas like La Cañada Flintridge.
Utility officials came to Lanterman Auditorium Monday to present their case for enhanced fire prevention efforts, as outlined in a new Wildfire Mitigation Plan that calls for the removal of up to 15,000 harmful trees in Edison’s service area this year and as many as 30,000 next year.
The state-mandated plan goes before the California Public Utilities Commission in May for approval, but Edison has already begun to implement its recommendations in anticipation of another potentially deadly fire season.
“We have been aggressively doing a lot of activity in our communities,” Marissa Castro-Salvati, a government relations manager for Edison, told the sparse audience that turned out for the community forum Monday.
The program’s 25 in-house arborists and more than 800 pruning contractors inspect some 900,000 trees annually, pruning about 700,000 and removing another 39,000 determined to be dead, dying or diseased, according to David Guzman, who oversees the utility’s vegetation management program.
“It may not be aesthetically feasible, but we’re going to get those clearances we’re after,” Guzman said.
Managing vegetation is just part of the picture — Edison also tracks data from weather stations to predict fire conditions, is stepping up inspection of its overhead facilities and is considering the installation of more durable covered conductors in high threat areas that can reduce risk by 66%, said Public Affairs Director Zanku Armenian.
“That mitigation measure will achieve a substantial amount of the mitigation we need,” he added.
During a Q&A session, La Cañada resident Ali Fahimi asked whether placing conductor wires underground would be a feasible way to reduce fire risk. Armenian clarified Edison was an overhead utility provider and said undergrounding wires costs much more and makes it harder for technicians to diagnose and repair malfunctions.
La Cañada homeowner Joe Thompson expressed frustration that tall pines on his home of 43 years were recently marked for pruning after years of being left alone by Edison crews.
“You’re reducing the property value with what you’ve done, and you’re going to reduce it significantly,” he said. “How many [wildfires] have we had in La Cañada that started in homes?”
Officials said big fires often spread to residential communities, where evacuation plans can complicate firefighting efforts.
La Cañada resident Julia Gaskill supports Edison’s efforts to clear and maintain vegetation growth and said as lovely as the city’s tree canopy is, it’s a “catastrophe waiting to happen.”
“Some people get upset because they do love the trees,” she said. “But fires are a reality. Fires have ravaged California, and tree care is really critical.”