Do Power Lines Cause Wildfires? – 5 Important Reasons Why

Posted on January 2, 2018

California is in the midst of fighting the deadliest wildfires in state history. Now, experts are pointing to a possible culprit: utility companies and their power lines. In fact, power line failure has been a leading cause of California wildfires for the past several years. In 2015, electrical power problems caused the burning of nearly 150,000 acres throughout California, more than any other cause.

As a result, regulators have charged tens of millions of dollars in fines relating to California wildfires, but it’s not enough to address the damage they cause. There are many speculations as to the root cause, including strong winds, but as of this writing, investigators have yet to determine what’s sparking the wildfires currently ravaging California. It begs the question, how can power lines start fires?

What are the Top Causes of Power Line Fires?

There are several situations in which a wildfire can result from power lines. If we understand how they happen, we will be able to help avoid them. Here are some of the most common causes:

#1. Downed Power Lines

Power systems have safeguards in place that detect fault conditions and limit damage. While these systems can limit damage, they can also create a situation where energized conductors fall to the earth, producing high temperature arcs of energy. These high-energy arcs can cause vegetation and other materials to catch fire. What’s worse, many of these downed lines go unnoticed by utility companies until a customer calls to report a lights-out condition.

#2. Contact with Vegetation

Trees and other vegetation can intrude on power lines and cause fires in multiple scenarios. A large tree can bring down a power line in a storm, causing a fire. When two branches extend across a conductor line over a long period, the branches can ignite. PG&E currently encourages people to report any unsafe conditions, and they will come out for their “make safe” service.

#3. Repetitive Faults

A power line fault causes an isolated risk of fire. In some cases, faults can repeat until a utility company rectifies the situation. Faults may occur as the result of impeding vegetation, system failure, or other means. Without intelligent monitoring equipment, these repetitive faults may go unnoticed until someone reports them – or they spark a fire.

#4. Conductor Slap

Power lines must have sufficient clearance between conductors so they never contact one another. However, under some circumstances, conductors may “slap” together, which can create high-energy arcs capable of producing fires. Some materials may burn as they fall, igniting the vegetation or other materials underneath.

#5. Apparatus Failure

Power line components require routine maintenance and repairs. Components like insulators, transformers, and switches may operate problem-free for years, but they all eventually fail. Before components completely fail, however, they often go through a period of “pre-failure,” in which they may be sending out energy arcs. In a perfect storm of circumstances, these components can ignite nearby combustibles.

What Can We Do to Prevent Power Line Fires?

Fortunately, there are ways we can prevent some of these scenarios. The most essential is intelligent reporting technology. Innovations in reporting allow the installation of “smart” electronics systems that warn of potential failures and dangerous conditions. By leveraging some of the technological innovations available to us, we may be able to reduce the risk of devastating wildfires in the future. California utility companies should take note and make plans to protect that state before another such crisis occurs.

If you suffered damages from the north bay wildfires, you might be owed compensation! Our group of law firms have joined forces in fighting for damages from the wild fire destruction. Please contact the team about your case. Fill out the form on our site or call today! (707) 658-4415

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