Californians were reminded of the threat of wildfires this past week as fires sparked from Yolo to Santa Clara counties. The Sand Fire to the north marks the first major wildfire of what many anticipate to be a busy season.
Power companies like PG&E, which was blamed for equipment failures that sparked major fires in the past, are grappling with prevention efforts. This year, the utility company announced it is planning to add about 600 weather stations and 100 high-definition cameras throughout California to improve the ability to predict and respond to conditions prone to starting fires. Four of those weather stations are operational in the Coastside area.
Meteorologists will feed information and data from these weather stations to PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center, based in San Francisco. “From there, experts will utilize the data to help inform decisions such as initiating a Public Safety Power Shutoff,” said PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti.
Customers living in several North Bay counties were part of a widespread planned shutdown on Saturday that was prompted by hot, windy conditions. Approximately 20,500 customers were affected, according to PG&E. Power was restored by Sunday afternoon. After a shutoff, power lines must be visually inspected across each and every mile for potential weather-related damage before they can be re-energized, according to Menniti.
The new weather stations will collect data day and night and make it available to state and local agencies and the public through online sources such as the National Weather Service and MesoWest.
Four of the weather stations are located nearby, near Woodside, Half Moon Bay, La Honda and Portola Valley.
The utility company already installed 200 weather stations last year in an effort to capture real-time data. Stations are installed in prioritized areas at elevated and extreme risks for wildfires, based on the California Public Utilities Commission High Fire Threat District map.
“These new weather stations help us monitor conditions around the clock, improving our ability to understand when and where it is necessary to take this precautionary action in the interest of public safety,” said Aaron Johnson, PG&E vice president of Electric Operations in a prepared statement.
PG&E has also installed 34 of the 600 high-definition cameras it plans to have operating by 2022 as part of the ALERTWildfire Camera Network. The high-definition, pan-tilt and zoom cameras allow firefighters, first responders and companies like PG&E to confirm and monitor potential wildfires. The system is used by fire managers and has been instrumental in tracking more than 500 fires since first developed in 2013.
There is no such camera in San Mateo County yet.
PG&E has not yet determined the final cost of the weather stations and high-definition cameras, but it’s something “we’re continuing to assess and determine,” according to Menniti.