The Okanogan County Electric Co-operative (OCEC) has started its summer wildfire-safety operations. This means the utility has disabled the automatic reclosing of the circuit breakers that feed the following areas, which are deemed to be at highest risk for wildfire:
• Eightmile (Upper Chewuch).
• Davis Lake.
• Hoot-n-Holler (including all Twisp River service).
• Upper Beaver Creek.
When a red-flag warning is issued, OCEC will also disable all other reclosers in its network, except for the town of Winthrop, until the warning is lifted.
Reclosers function like circuit breakers and typically work automatically to de-energize the powerline, and then quickly “reclose” to try to keep the power on. If the fault is permanent, the power stays off until crews find the problem. Under normal circumstances, the reclosers reset quickly, causing just a momentary “blink” in power.
When the reclosers are set on “non-reclose,” if there’s a problem, the breaker turns off the power and the line is de-energized until OCEC crews manually inspect the line.
Disabling reclosers can increase the number of outages or prolong them, but it reduces the potential for sparks from contact between powerlines and trees.
This year, the OCEC board adopted a wildfire mitigation plan with more stringent safety protocols. Those include the authority to preemptively shut off power at times of extreme fire risk.
The wildfire mitigation plan is available at www.ocec.coop.