Energizing the Fight; Powering Up the Recovery
Electrical Supply Rapidly Being Restored to Fire-Affected Areas
Kelowna, BC – August 26, 2003 – The main event – between fire fighters and the Okanagan Mountain fire – is going the distance. As of this morning, the Forestry Service reports the fire 40 percent contained, a vast improvement over conditions several days ago, but the fight is far from over and continues on several fronts.
The under card is filled with support efforts that are also going the distance: Emergency Social Services, the RCMP, the media, the SPCA to name a few. Among those closest to the front line are employees of Aquila Networks Canada, working in lockstep with fire crews, isolating electrical hazards from the fight while ensuring that pump houses are powered up to supply water on demand.
Aquila, like all others engaged in the battle, has established a war room. Monitoring Okangan fires as they encroach on transmission lines, then substations, then distribution service within city limits.
“For the past week our emergency team has put in 16 and 18 hour days and never missed a beat. They’ve been totally focused attuned to the hazards of every situation, protecting the fire fighters, themselves and residential properties every step of the way. I’m very proud to be working alongside such a professional group of employees. They’ve risen to the occasion,” said Kevin James, Okanagan Operations Manager and Commander of Aquila’s Emergency Operations Centre.
Over the past three days the attack has taken on a markedly different tone, shifting from defence to recovery. Following is a power supply status report on all principal areas affected by Okanagan fires.
This is the primary supply line to the Penticton-Kaleden-Summerland area. Out of service since Aug. 19. Today Aquila received a permit from the Forestry Service to enter the area and begin rebuilding this important part of the Okanagan grid. 26 structures (poles, cross arms, etc.) are either on the ground or seriously damaged over a five-kilometer area. The terrain poses an impediment. Line crews and heavy equipment will be moved on site today and tomorrow. The line is estimated to be back in service by Saturday, Aug. 30.
These back up lines are carrying the service normally provided by the 230kV to Penticton. On Friday, Aug. 22 a new fire ripped through the South Okanagan and disabled all three lines leaving some 60,000 people in “black out”. In just over an hour Aquila crews had the 163kV line back in service, with “temporary” solutions, to ensure power was available for the South Okanagan firefight.
Over the weekend, Aquila crews from the Kootenays and the South Okanagan rebuilt both 60kV lines, replacing a dozen structures and damaged conductor and cross arms. Effective 3 p.m. Aug. 25 the lines were back in service. At this time electrical supply to Penticton-Summerland-Kaleden-Okanagan Falls is secure, but on “emergency watch” because of the unpredictability of the South Okanagan fire. When the 230kV primary line is back in service, the “emergency watch” will be downgraded.
As of Monday, Aug. 25 “underground” distribution feeds to hundreds of properties in fire-affected subdivisions have been addressed. Crews have isolated and deenergized service to properties that have been destroyed – eliminating public hazards – and have identified and restored service to individual properties awaiting the return of their owners.
Evacuees of all other areas should note that electrical service might have been “momentarily” interrupted when distribution feeders were isolated to protect fire fighters. However, all evacuated areas have had continuous power supply 99 percent of the time. Residents with deep freezes, aquariums and other electricity-dependent apparatus should find everything in order upon their return.
All electrical service is above ground in this area. Some 50 poles need to be replaced before service can be restored. Authorities still consider this area unsafe; therefore Aquila has yet to begin work. Restoration will take an estimated 5-7 days once permits are issued.
Given the tinder dry conditions, Aquila’s System Control Centre has determined that the transmission and part of the distribution system in Kelowna will be operated manually enabling on-sight visibility, rather than remotely with “automatic” reclosers. In simple terms, this means that if there is an outage in any area of Kelowna it will take longer than customers have previously experienced to restore service. This “precautionary” step is being taken to ensure that line hazards, such as trees and branches, are not inadvertently set on fire. Aquila apologizes for any inconvenience this “emergent”, but necessary decision, may cause.
“Over the past few days we’ve repaired miles of transmission, addressed miles of distribution and restored substations to full operation at all hours of the day and night. Our employees are committed to doing whatever it takes to stay on top of the situation,” said James.
“The work that’s being done by PREOC, Emergency Social Services, the RCMP, the Fire Department and others is phenomenal. To a person every Aquila employee is proud to be part of something as disciplined, organized and focused as this emergency effort. We can’t say enough about the adept leadership of people like Ron Matucci, Bruce Smith, and Fire Chief Zimmerman, to name just a few. With people like that at the helm, we’re confident that Kelowna will bounce back from this crisis much sooner, than later,” added James.
Aquila Networks Canada is an investor-owned electric utility serving more than 500,000 customers in British Columbia and Alberta.