SACRAMENTO – A wind-driven wildfire near the Oregon border is threatening the major power transmission lines between California and the Pacific Northwest, though grid operators said Thursday they can reroute electricity if the lines go dead.
State and federal air tankers, ground crews and equipment are being diverted from other areas to fight the fire, which is burning between three transmission lines located about 1 1/2 miles apart. The fire is paralleling the lines, which together carry about 4,200 megawatts between Washington’s Bonneville Power Administration and California.
The lightening-sparked fire was detected Tuesday and grew to more than 400 acres by Thursday. It is now a national priority because it threatens the power lines running through a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest about 26 miles northeast of McCloud in Siskiyou County, said Ed Hollenshead, director of fire and aviation operations for the U.S. Forest Service’s California region.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, has contingency plans to reroute electricity around the transmission lines if one or more fail or have to be shut down, said Jim Detmers, the system’s vice president for operations.
Because of cooling temperatures, the state would likely seek only voluntary conservation by citizens or ask industries to voluntarily cut back on their electricity use even if all three lines are shut down, Detmers said. No rolling blackouts or interruptions are likely unless other transmission lines or power plants coincidentally also shut down, he said.
“It would impact all of California if there was something beyond all of our present planning, and right now we’re not foreseeing that,” Detmers said. Diminished power from the Pacific Northwest contributed to state’s pwer crisis in 2001.
The fire is about 15 percent contained, but increasing winds this weekend are expected to thwart efforts to control the blaze, said Joe Millar, the national forest’s fire management officer and the incident commander. The fire is burning through grass, brush and pockets of trees into an area where lava beds make access difficult for ground crews, though equipment has been able to reach the fire.
It is one of numerous fires burning in Northern California, many sparked by lightening.
More than 100 residents were temporarily evacuated as a 1,200-acre fire southwest of Lake Shastina threatened homes Wednesday evening. A 200-acre fire threatening 50 homes near Shasta Lake is 65 percent contained, with full containment expected by Friday.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Thursday that two 17-year-old male juveniles and 19-year-old Kathryn Jane Scott, all of Yreka, were arrested last week on allegations that they started a wildfire there by burning paper along a roadway.