Fire Hardening Our System to Make Our Communities Safer

FiRM and CNF,  may be unfamiliar acronyms but they equate to some of the most important efforts we do here at SDG&E. They are all related to our work to keep our customers, our employees and our region safe from the threat of wildfires.

Eastern portions of San Diego county are considered most at risk to be impacted by severe weather. As part of our commitment to exceed the highest standards in safety, we have been proactively “hardening” our system in these areas to be more resilient.

This includes upgrading high-voltage power lines in the Cleveland National Forest and continuing the Fire Risk Mitigation (FiRM) program which addresses fire risk by modernizing critical and aging infrastructure.

Meet the face of FiRM

Willie Thomas, SDG&E’s FiRM program manager, and his team are on the front lines every day doing their part to minimize fire risks in and out of wildfire season.

FiRM crews concentrate on two concurrent strategies to harden the infrastructure in high-risk areas:

  • Replace older wires with newer and stronger ones. Some wires in these areas are more than 50 years old and are at the end of their service life.
  • Replace wooden poles with durable, fire-resistant, weatherized steel poles.

Advancements in technology are leading to improved ways to assess our system to adequately handle known weather conditions. With new, advanced information that analyzes wind data over the last 50 years, we have been able to determine what specific infrastructure in our system are at risk and proactively work to improve it.

“We are using some of the most advanced tools in the industry to get the type of data you cannot get from the ground,” said Thomas. “We rely on programs to help us design and engineer facilities to exceed the California Public Utilities Commission’s standards of safety.”

The FiRM teams uses drones to capture survey data and high definition images of high-risk poles and wires, which helps with the accuracy of the design processes to ensure the safety of the crews and customers on the ground.

“The tools we use today were not around when these poles and wires were installed,” said Thomas. “We are more confident our upgraded lines are safe, reliable and capable of withstanding environmental conditions with the data we have access to now.”

Upgrading the backcountry

Strengthening the region’s energy grid is a critical component of our fire prevention and mitigation efforts to keep our customers safe, while delivering clean, reliable energy.

As part of our fire safety and prevention plan, we have successfully replaced more than 12,000 wood poles with steel ones  within the San Diego county’s most fire prone areas—with nearly 62 percent of those in and around the Cleveland National Forest, a high-risk fire threat zone.

We plan to replace thousands of poles over the next several years, as well as underground or replace up to 30 miles of overhead lines in sensitive areas in the east San Diego County.  

“With every upgrade, we are rebuilding the backcountry to make it more robust, resilient and safe,” Thomas said. “Not only are we helping prevent wildfires, but we are improving reliability in these areas which helps us respond more efficiently to the needs of our customers in any situation.”

Click here to read more about our wildfire safety and preparedness efforts.