LOS ANGELES - Some of the worst fires we’ve seen in this state have been caused by things like downed power lines and equipment failures. That said, Southern California Edison is trying to be proactive about catching things that trigger fires.
For one thing, there is a Southern California Edison inspection team using drones to look for problems from the air. Their onboard cameras are high def and can see some things otherwise hard to catch.
The goal is to try to get ahead of potentially devasting wildfires like the Thomas Fire in 2017. That one was found to have been caused by two power lines slapping together.
Kathy hidalgo who heads up Edison's aerial inspection program says their drones, equipped with high-def cameras, are being used to look for problems in high-risk areas like Malibu, Santa Clarita, and the San Gabriel Mountains, foothills and elsewhere.
Hidalgo says the intent of the program is to identify ignition risks. She says they’re looking for things like woodpecker damage that can decrease the strength of wooden poles and loose bolts that can cause problems that could cause fires.
Says Hidalgo, “We have seen bolts holding our hardware in place where we’ve been able to see where they’re backing out a little bit. They haven’t backed out yet. You can see the threads on those bolts."
If they backed out, Hidalgo says, "You’d have a wire down incident. But, we’re preventing those before they actually happen.”
Pictures and video from the drones are scrutinized by another team looking for potential fire starters and they’ve found some since the program started last year.
Hidalgo says, “We’ve identified several opportunities where we’ve gone out and we’ve been able to mitigate by replacing cross-arms; by replacing hardware; by replacing poles that could have eventually been an ignition risk but we prevented those before they happened.”
The aerial teams have been launching drones in Southern California neighborhoods since April. That's a little different from last year. Because of COVID-19, workers have been instructed to wear masks and appropriate gear as they try to make sure power lines that could be fire problems are not hindered by the coronavirus and our quarantine.