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Regional News

Avista Moves Into "Dry Land" Mode As Wildfire Risk Increases


The wildfire season is relatively quiet right in the Inland Northwest. Crews over the weekend announced they had fully contained three fires in eastern. A handful of fires started last week when conditions were optimum for new fire starts, but crews were able to get on them quickly.

Still, things could erupt at any time and, as a result, Avista says it has recently made some seasonal changes to reduce the chance its power system causes fires.

“It’s a way to make our system operate in a safer mode," said Avista Operations Director David Howell. "The trade-off is reliability, because, what happens under normal conditions is you have a fault, it could potentially automatically re-energize.”

Which could lead to igniting a wildfire.

What’s the change? Howell used a household analogy to describe the approach. In your house, when something trips a circuit, your breaker switch pops off and interrupts the flow of power in a dangerous situation. It’s a different approach than that taken by utilities in California, which sometimes pre-emptively power down some of their lines during extreme conditions.

“What we do is we disable that automatic reclosing, is what we call it, on our system and we actually patrol our lines. So, just like California, they make an operational change before they re-energize their line. They do a patrol. We do the same thing, but our change is not to take the grid down. It’s to operate it at a higher level of protection," he said.

In this, what Avista calls its ‘dry land’ mode, Howell says Avista takes extra time after making repairs to a downed line to make sure that repowering it can be safely done. That means customers that have been without power may have to wait a few extra hours before getting their lights back.