PSE has new tool to prevent wildfires caused by powerlines

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Puget Sound Energy has developed a new tool to mitigate the number of wildfires caused by powerlines and transformers.

In 2020, a devastating incident occurred in Sumner. Strong winds toppled trees, powerlines, and a transformer, sparking a fire later known as the Sumner Grade fire. This inferno ravaged nearly 800 acres of land, obliterating 16 structures and seven homes, leaving a stark reminder of the destructive power of wildfires.

With the development of the ‘Public Safety Power Shutoff tool, Puget Sound Energy says it can now proactively shut off power in areas expecting extreme fire weather (e.g., strong winds and low relative humidity).

This new tool offers a little hope to wildland firefighters like Kyle Bylin. Bylin is a Wildland Fire Team Leader for East Pierce Fire and Rescue. In East Pierce, Bylin and his department face the unique challenge of fighting fires in a wildland-urban interface.

“Anytime we mix people in with wildland fires, it makes it a lot more complicated,” said Bylin.

Bylin, who also responded to the Sumner Grade fire in 2020, says that fighting fires in these types of areas is not only “complicated” but also that “as wildland firefighters, we always look to power lines as kind of being a problem area for us.”

One neighborhood that lost two homes in the 2020 wildfires is up against the wildland area and directly under numerous powerlines.

While East Pierce Fire and Rescue holds monthly trainings within its department to keep firefighters up to date on the latest tactics for wildland-urban interface events, the training doesn’t end with this local fire department.

“We’ve actually been holding trainings in this neighborhood for the last six weeks. We have two more drills, but we’re going to continue to take the things we’ve learned from this and hopefully apply it to the rest of the county,” said Bylin.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue says training within the community is a great way to prepare for the worst outcomes. You can learn more about local training here.

Outside of East Pierce territory, another agency looking to keep people and their property safe is Washington’s Department of Natural Resources with its ‘Wildfire Ready Neighbors’ program.

Comments on this article