Big Bear replacing old power lines to reduce wildfire risk

More than 162 miles of power lines in the Big Bear area are being replaced with stronger, thicker cables that are much less likely to spark a major wildfire.
BIG BEAR, Calif. (KABC) -- More than 162 miles of power lines in the Big Bear area are being replaced with stronger, thicker cables that are much less likely to spark a major wildfire.

"Because of climate change and because of the droughts, if you do have a spark or a fire the chances of that becoming a wildfire have increased over the years," says Paul Marconi, general manager of Bear Valley Electric Service.

"It's a tough area, because we only have three ways in and out of Big Bear, so the best of all situations is to not have a fire," he says.

Marconi says the multi-million dollar capital improvement project would replace 100% of the area's sub-transmission lines, and approximately 75% of the area's distribution lines. It's about one-tenth the cost of moving lines underground, and most of the project has already been budgeted.

"I won't think the ratepayers will see a significant change in their bills due to this," he says.

The old electric lines are made of aluminum and are completely bare, with no protective covering. If a tree falls on top of the line, or it hits the ground, it can easily start a fire.

"Every year these trees get laden with snow and ice, and over the years the branches give way," says Marconi. "They may not give way during the snowstorm, but during the dry summer months they give way and break in the wrong place."

The new wiring has three layers of insulation to help prevent the line from accidentally sparking.

"It's like a PVC, which gives it that protection we need from trees," says Operations Superintendent Jeff Barber. "So it's very hard. You could take a hatchet right now and play heck trying to get it through there."

Bear Valley Electric is replacing lines in high priority areas first, such as Baldwin Lake Road, which can be used as an evacuation route during a major fire. The project is expected to take another ten years to complete.
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