Preparing for Wildfire Season

CEO Dave MarkhamAs Central Oregon enters fire season, I urge you to explore this month’s Ruralite dedicated to wildfire and Public Safety Power Shutoff preparedness. You will find information to help you prepare for a possible PSPS event, and how to protect and safely
evacuate your home should the need arise.

Last year’s Labor Day wildfires are a sober reminder of how high-wind events can quickly contribute to the spread of wildfires in wildland-urban interface areas. Combined with ongoing droughts; long, hot summers; and disruptive weather events; we must
remain vigilant in our awareness and preparation.

One only has to drive through the Cascades on Highway 126 along the McKenzie River or Highway 22 through Detroit to witness the almost instantaneous devastation incurred by the high winds and subsequent fires that ripped through those areas, tragically taking human life.

Foundations lay bare as adjacent tents and trailers serve as temporary housing. Along the winding highways, the noises of chainsaws, tree pickers and chippers fill the air.

Hope is in the air, too. Skeleton framing shapes new homes, and restrung power lines provide energy for the rebuilding. The occasional “McKenzie Strong” or “Detroit Strong” signs greet drivers, inspiring you to believe those who chose to remain will pull through.

Anyone living in Central Oregon long enough knows what happened on the west side of the Cascades can happen here. CEC’s service territory—which covers 5,300 square miles, including multiple national forests—has several high-risk areas susceptible to wildfires.

We can’t predict the next lightning strike or extreme weather event. But we are making every effort to minimize our system’s assets as a contributing factor in a wildfire’s ignition.

CEC’s wildfire mitigation plan takes an active and comprehensive approach toward that end. Goals and metrics measure their effectiveness while allowing for retooling and improving practices as they evolve, including adopting new technologies when available and feasible.

The plan also includes Public Safety Power Shutoffs as a potential tool. Turning off electricity is not a decision taken lightly. Many factors can influence a decision: the
National Weather Service’s red flag warnings, sustained high winds and low humidity, public safety concerns and live boots-on-the-ground reports.

CEC’s electric system follows the National Electrical Safety Code’s specifications to resist high winds. However, it is the threat of foreign objects contacting our power lines during a high-wind event that heightens concerns—such as trees outside of rights-of-way, tarps and canopies that can bring down poles and power lines and ignite fires. To prevent this from happening during a high-wind event, executing a PSPS can be an effective tool to protect members, homes and local communities.

Preparing for wildfire season must be a collective effort. We must be ready for the worst and hope for the best. To learn more about what CEC is doing and what you can
do, visit