SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Lots of calls into our newsroom in recent days because of a low-flying helicopter over our mountains.
That's Southern California Edison (SCE) surveying its equipment for hazards, now that we're in peak fire season.
The power company has a program -- and a special message -- for people with trees, hedges and brush near its equipment.
“We want to make sure that they’re aware that Southern California Edison has a program that offers a free service for us to work on trees or vegetation that is near power lines,” said David Guzman, SCE Manager of Vegetation Management. “So, if there’s any doubt if they’re in close proximity to our high voltage lines or power lines, they can give us a call.”
It is an annual program and SCE is reaching out again this year to the public in high-fire risk areas.
"Anything that is dead, dying, decadent, diseased that has the potential to fall into our lines, we're going to go ahead and mitigate those potential hazards."
Guzman was making rounds in his car during our recent Zoom call. He’s helping get the word out to more than 100,000 tree trimmers, ag workers, gardeners and contractors in SCE’s service territory. The area stretches from Orange County across to San Bernardino County and as far north to Mono County on the eastern edge of California.
Anyone clearing trees and brush from private properties near SCE equipment can -- and should -- get a free evaluation before digging, trimming or cutting.
“Our guys are utility-line clearance certified workers which means they have the training to work in close proximity to high voltage conductors."
SCE crews inspect more than one million trees each year; half of those are in high-fire zones, like Mission Canyon, Montecito and the hills of Goleta and Ventura County.
This summer’s ramped up public outreach comes after a series of devastating fires over the past few years during an historic drought.
Guzman admits that palm trees are among the most problematic. In high winds, loose fronds can fly 100-feet away into power lines. He explained why so-called "subject trees" are another problem.
“If you have a conifer, a pine tree 100-feet away or so but has the potential to fall and land into our lines, we're going to go ahead and look into the site conditions around those trees, make sure that there’s nothing uprooting, in the position that it’s about to start to fail.”
The Southern California utility giant is required to keep a clearance around its equipment from the ground, upwards, with a 10-foot radius around the base and eight feet up the pole.
“We're looking at everything from the ground conditions, from included bark to different conditions on the tree itself that have the potential to blow into, fall into or grow into our facilities."
SCE is also enhancing its vegetation program with supplemental patrols, including ‘Operation Santa Ana,’ which includes sundowners. It is a way to ensure that all vegetation is cleared from SCE lines, as required by California codes.
“We perform these patrols with the local fire authorities, so we will conduct joint patrols with different counties, fire authorities includings Santa Barbara and Ventura and others as well,” Guzman explained.
Guzman shared SCE’s key message during the start to the 2020 high fire season, stressing the importance of partnerships between state and local authorities, and SCE and the public.
“Stay safe. Let us do what we do and we'll make sure that your home is in a fire condition around electrical facilities that is going to be safe.”
For more information or to schedule a free consultation with a specialized SCE arborist, click the following link: https://www.sce.com/safety/power-lines