While some areas are still smoldering in Okanogan County, the PUD line crews have restored power to those customers who can be restored, and will soon help in neighboring utilities’ efforts.
When the Cold Springs Fire took off on Labor Day, crews “followed the black all the way down the valley,” Operations Manager Randy Bird said at a Sept. 14 commissioner meeting. Since the initial start, the PUD has also worked with a handful of other contractors to work on target areas.
Okanogan PUD has four transmission lines that feed the system – three from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and one from Wells Dam (Douglas County PUD). Chief Engineer Dan Simpson shared a summary of the events that occurred during the fire, as all four outside transmission lines were de-energized at different times and more than $7 million damage occurred to the PUD’s own transmission and distribution systems.
The Foster Creek transmission line around Bridgeport has been an area of major focus to get more transmission back into the county. The Loup line was also damaged, along with the Okanogan-Sandflat line.
The entire Okanogan-Brewster line, much of which is alongside Highway 97, was already on the short list for rebuilding because of its age, so the district hopes to soon begin the process of a major rebuild. About 40 percent of the line was destroyed in the fire.
Crews have been working 18-hour days to get customers back in power, Bird said. Although those long shifts might end soon, there will be more work to do, with 10 miles of transmission lines to repair and stabilize the system, which is currently running off one outside transmission line instead of four.
The PUD is sending one crew to assist Douglas County PUD and a second crew to Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative, which Bird said have been “hurt harder by this.”
“Amen – send them over!” Commissioner Scott Vejraska said, who called into the meeting from his work as a lineman for NVEC.
Bird also said that crews have received many donations of goodies, cards and lots of thanks, which has helped give linemen an extra boost to get through the long days.
Director of Power Resources and Broadband Services Ron Gadeberg said the district lost both ends of its fiber loop through the county. On the north end, wind knocked trees over the fiber line outside Cusick early Labor Day, and fires burnt up the fiber outside Bridgeport in the evening. The district then was completely without fiber and phones, until the north end was repaired overnight.
When the north end came on, much of the traffic could be re-routed, but there has been difficulty since in getting services fully back on. Douglas PUD has been able to get the southern end repaired now, and circuits are coming back online, but there is still more work to be done before all internet and phone services are restored county-wide.