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Pacific Power shutoff plan is prudent

Pacific Power is doing the right thing by announcing in advance that it may shut off electricity in fire-prone areas if conditions warrant this summer. The company’s plans are reasonable, and it is making every effort to limit inconvenience to customers.

A power line was the cause of the Camp fire last year that killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, California. PG&E, the utility responsible for that line, now faces bankruptcy and billions of dollars in damages.

After the fact, a newspaper investigation found the company had delayed a safety overhaul of the century-old line. Also, PG&E had planned to shut off the line before the Camp fire erupted, but customers objected to losing power.

Pacific Power has taken that lesson to heart, and is explaining its plans now in detail, so customers are prepared should it become necessary to interrupt power. That would likely happen during drought conditions if high winds threaten to blow trees and other debris into power lines.

Shutting off power would be a last resort, and power company officials say data from the past decade showed conditions would have prompted only one shutoff for about one hour. Shutoffs ideally would be announced 72 hours in advance.

If shutoffs do occur, the company will offer air-conditioned tents for residents who must leave their homes during a power outage.

Pacific Power’s regional business manager told the Mail Tribune the company has a strong maintenance program, and we have no reason to doubt her. Beyond contingency planning, the company is also increasing its efforts to clear vegetation from around power lines and poles and ramping up inspections.

None of these measures will prevent fires igniting for other reasons. Lightning remains the biggest risk factor, along with human causes such as carelessness in dry forests and sparks from vehicles.

But planning to shut off power at the right time will remove one potential ignition source, helping keep residents as safe as possible in high fire risk areas. Rural residents should be prepared, and sign up for the county’s emergency citizen notification system on the county’s website.