CEO’s Message — August 2021

Planning and Preparing for Wildfire Season

Headshot of Clay Fitch

More than 5 million acres burned in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada last year, making 2020 the most active fire year on record for the West Coast. Extreme windstorms instigated catastrophic wildfires that burned millions of acres, taking human life and destroying thousands of homes. Forecasters predict another hot, dry summer with drought conditions throughout the region, leading to yet another active fire season.

In Nevada and neighboring states, investor-owned utilities came under intense public scrutiny and legislative oversight for their alleged roles in some fires. As a result, several states enacted legislation requiring electric utilities to prepare wildfire mitigation plans. Rural electric cooperatives, municipalities, and public utility districts in Nevada are not yet subject to such a mandate. Still, Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC) believes developing a thorough plan—whether required or not—is prudent, responsible, and in the best interests of our members.

WREC has always taken safety and fire prevention seriously. Crews have been hardening the system, testing poles, and managing vegetation for decades. More recently, we have been planting cleared rights-of-way with fire-resistant vegetation such as crested wheatgrass. WREC vehicles are equipped with fire suppression equipment during fire season, and WREC owns two fire trucks that can be deployed to protect our power lines from wildfires.

These preventive measures—and an analysis of the risks—are being incorporated into a comprehensive plan. Through our Nevada Rural Electric Association membership, we collaborate with utilities across the state to share data, study best practices, and develop plans to protect our power lines, members, and property. In a similar effort, a plan was created last year for the territory WREC serves in Utah. That plan is available for review and comment on our website.

While WREC has been improving its safety and wildfire protocols, we also encourage our members to take steps to reduce wildfire risks for their homes or businesses. The National Fire Protection Association recommends choosing fire-resistant building materials and limiting flammable vegetation in the three home ignition zones. The three zones are immediate (0 to 5 feet around the house), intermediate (5 to 30 feet), and extended (30 to 100 feet). NFPA recommendations include a list of things you can do around your home to make it safer from embers and radiant heat. The list includes:

  • Clean leaves, pine needles, and other debris from roofs, rain gutters, and exterior attic vents.
  • Move any flammable material away from exterior walls: mulch, plants, leaves, pine needles, firewood—anything that can burn.
  • Remove items stored under decks or porches.
  • Replace or repair loose or missing shingles or roof tiles.
  • Install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening on vents in eaves.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and broken windows.

Many more resources are available to help you prepare. We encourage you to visit the Firewise page or the National Fire Protection Association website to learn what you can do in all three zones to help mitigate risks.

At WREC, we will continue making system improvements, managing vegetation, conducting inspections, and implementing testing programs to help mitigate risks. These efforts ensure your access to safe, reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity. We hope you will join us in preparing and mitigating the risks to the beautiful communities we call home.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer