Keeping Trees Away From Power Lines

Published online: Jul 07, 2021 Articles, East Idaho Business Trent Yancey, Operations Manager, Fall River Electric Cooperative
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ISLAND PARK - There has been a concerted effort in Island Park during the last few years to mitigate fire danger in the area. Property owners have been encouraged to make their properties fire safe by taking steps like removing fuel sources, cutting back ladder fuels on existing trees and removing material around cabins. Thanks to the hard work of many, this effort has been hugely successful, and you need only to drive around some of the treated properties to see the progress that has been made. 

Given the recent fires in California and the resulting devastation, we share our members concerns. The cause of the fires in California were power lines that ran across wooded areas, leaving fatalities and billions of dollars in property damage, as well as a power company bankruptcy. We are working to avoid a situation like this at all costs.  

Fall River Electric’s systems that serve areas such as Island Park, West Yellowstone and some wooded portions of Teton Valley are vulnerable to the risk of wildfires, especially in the dry seasons of summer and late fall. Most of Fall River’s transmission system, sub-stations and a significant portion of our distribution lines are on the Targhee and Gallatin National Forests. We have special use permits that dictate conditions for safe operation of our systems. Right-of-way easements are spelled out in the permits and it is Fall River’s responsibility to maintain those easements. 

On private land, our distribution lines also have right-of-way easements. The National Electric Safety Code is the jurisdictional authority and provides the guidelines for the widths of power line easements. For our 7200-volt distribution lines that serve dozens of subdivisions in the IP/WY areas, there is to be no vegetation ten feet from any conductor, above, below and on both sides. Fall River has spent millions of dollars in the last ten years reclaiming our easements on both public and private land. That effort has paid off in more reliable service to our members and safer spaces on our member’s property. 

Trees outside of the mandated 10 feet that reside on private property are the responsibility of the owners to maintain. When members identify a dangerous tree, Fall River has two options:

1- We can cut dangerous trees at our discretion or homeowners can schedule a time for us to let the power lines down for tree removal or trimming by private contractors. 

2 - We ask that our members report dangerous trees or downed lines to Fall River Electric and we can send someone out to advise. 

Never try to remove a tree or limbs on a power line, never get close to a line that is low hanging or on the ground, and never try to cut a tree that could contact a power line.

Our system is designed with reclosing equipment that will recognize a downed line or a tree on the line and will isolate the faulted section from the rest of the line. During dry conditions, the fault may not produce enough fault current to operate the reclosing device and the lines continue to stay energized. This will cause arcing that in turn could cause a fire. During these conditions especially, we need our members to be vigilant and quickly report any dangerous trees or downed lines. And remember, always assume a power line is HOT! Stay away and keep others away!   

We ask that our members support our dedication to keeping our easements well-maintained. When you receive notification that we will be in your area clearing right-of-way easements, it is to the benefit of all our members so that Fall River Electric can continue to provide safe reliable power.

The Island Park Sustainable Fire Community is a local nonprofit in Island Park working to encourage more homeowners to make their properties fire wise and safe, following the example of those who have already made the commitment. If you would like more information, you can contact them at IPSustainableFire@gmail.com or 208-680-6852; or by visiting their website at www.islandparkfirecommunity.com

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