UPDATE: Rocky Mountain Power has extended the power cutoff watch in Summit Park through Sunday
For the first time since announcing a policy to preemptively cut power during times of exceptionally high wildfire risk, Rocky Mountain Power is readying to do just that in Summit County and is asking Summit Park residents to prepare for a possible power outage this week.
Weather conditions Wednesday into Thursday show increased risk for wildfire, with low humidity, dry vegetation and windy conditions expected.
A utility spokesperson, Spencer Hall, said the risk will be highest Wednesday and Thursday and that conditions likely will improve this weekend when a wintry storm is expected to move in, though the timing of that expected relief keeps shifting.
For now, Hall asked Summit Park residents to update their contact information on file with the utility by logging into their account at rockymountainpower.net or calling 888-221-7070.
He said the company hopes to provide 72 hours of notice to residents before of any power shutoff occurs, but that in some cases that might not be possible. Hall said the utility will attempt to contact residents multiple times using emails, texts and calls.
He noted the disruptive nature of a power outage and said it would only be used as a last resort.
“This isn’t going to be a widespread outage,” he said, adding that it isn’t certain that the power will be cut. “(It would be) almost surgically isolated to areas that may be affected or may be at risk.”
Rocky Mountain Power announced this policy at the end of last summer and this is the second time members of the public have been told to prepare to lose power. Last September, the utility briefly told Cedar City residents to prepare for a potential outage amid high winds, but the utility did not cut power in that instance.
This fire watch extends to Wallsburg, Cedar City and Little Cottonwood, as well.
“We’ve never reached this level before,” Hall said, referring to several indicators that point to wildfire risk.
The utility said in a press release that some areas it serves are at an increased risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“As a safety precaution, electricity could be turned off in wildfire high risk areas during extreme weather events for public safety in an effort to prevent a catastrophic wildfire. The measure would only be used as a last resort to help ensure community safety,” the company said.
Areas of Park City are also at elevated risk and may receive preemptive cuts to power during other incidents, but are not expected to be impacted at this time.
Hall indicated that specific weather conditions influenced the decision to include Summit Park while excluding Park City in the affected area. Other considerations include how close buildings are to what is known as the wildland-urban interface, power lines and other utility infrastructure.
The utility would turn off power to prevent sparks from its equipment igniting a fire. Hall said that high winds could force tree branches onto power lines, for example, and that in the current bone-dry conditions, one spark could prove disastrous.
“Look at the fire in Provo Canyon,” Hall said, referencing a wildfire reportedly inadvertently started by an Orem police officer last week. “It started at a gun range with a little spark, traveled a great way.”
The utility is also sending crews into the field, including in Summit Park, Hall said, to examine power lines for potential issues, to clear brush and to report conditions on the ground.
According to statistics from CalFire, power lines or electricity-related incidents have caused five of the 20 deadliest fires in California’s history and half of the most destructive. A California utility declared bankruptcy after investigators determined electrical power lines caused a devastating 2018 wildfire there.
Rocky Mountain Power announced a $10 million wildfire mitigation strategy last summer in the wake of those wildfires.
The preemptive power shutoff policy was included in that plan, as was the commitment to install weather monitoring equipment in high-risk areas, which Hall said has taken place.
Hall said that the utility is using in-house meteorologists along with a third-party service to evaluate conditions and that the decision to cut power ultimately rests with the utility.
“We don’t ever want to turn the power off, but we also want to keep communities safe. This is one more tool in our toolbox to help keep communities safe,” Hall said. “We’ll be in communication with customers and watching this closely and doing everything we can to keep customers safe.”
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