Northwest Colorado wildfires cause $925K in damage to electric utility infrastructure | SteamboatToday.com

Northwest Colorado wildfires cause $925K in damage to electric utility infrastructure

Lauren Blair/Craig Press

The top of a power pole lies on the ground along Blue Mountain Road between Rangely and Blue Mountain in June. The extremely hot-burning Dead Dog Fire incinerated 80 poles, costing Moon Lake Electric Association an estimated $315,000.

A series of intense wildfires blazed across Northwest Colorado this year, sparing homes but causing an unusual amount of damage to local electric infrastructure.

Three large fires sent more than 25,000 acres up in flames across Moffat County between July and September, and nearly 18,000 acres burned in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in June’s Dead Dog Fire.

Yampa Valley Electric Association saw some of the biggest losses from this year's fire season following two fast-moving fires in September, which amounted to an estimated $610,000 for replacement and improvement of damaged infrastructure, according to Member Outreach Supervisor Jim Jennings.

Flames from the Pine Tree Fire, which burned south of Maybell, and the Winter Valley Fire, which burned from Elk Springs to Cross Mountain, incinerated poles and downed electric lines, and often, there is little companies can do to mitigate the threats posed by wildfire.

"In a case such as the Winter Valley, where the fire moves so fast through the sagebrush, we can only de-energize lines to protect the people in the area and then prepare to reconstruct the line quickly after authorities let us re-enter the area," YVEA General Manager Diane Johnson said.

More than 50 poles burned in both fires, though YVEA's replacement tally amounted to 83 new poles to "harden the system," Jennings said.

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Crews and contractors faced extreme conditions when rebuilding, he added, due to gusty winds kicking up dust and ash from the fire site.

"For both fires this fall, our crews moved very fast and had lines re-energized within days," Johnson said.

Three electric meters and nearly 30,000 feet of conductor line also had to be replaced. Estimated costs were highest for the Pine Tree Fire, with a total of nearly $420,000 to replace and improve infrastructure. Damage from the Winter Valley Fire rang up more than $190,000 in replacement costs.

The losses were unusual, despite active fire seasons in the area.

Except for this year, "we have had no lost infrastructure the past five years," Jennings said.

Near Rangely and Dinosaur, June’s Dead Dog Fire leveled 80 power poles along Blue Mountain Road. Moon Lake Electric Association replaced them with 94 poles spaced closer together and also replaced the line, said Chief Financial Officer and Manager of Finance Alan Haslem. The cost was more than $315,000.

All told, Moon Lake's repairs took about five weeks to complete, with several crews working nonstop. YVEA's repairs for both fires are also complete.

Transmission infrastructure for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association was threatened by several fires, but was not damaged, said Tri-State spokesperson Lee Boughey.

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