SCE's laydown yard in Ventura for the Thomas fire.

Credit: Troy Whitman
SCE crews at the helicopter landing zone and laydown yard for the Creek fire.

Credit: James Madia
SCE crews and employees meet for a morning briefing Dec. 8 during the Thomas fire. As more crews come in to help with restoration, their ...

SCE's staging yard in Ventura.

SCE's staging yard in Ventura.

SCE Conducts Damage Assessments as SoCal Wildfires Continue to Burn

With active wildfires, first responders are allowing some access so planners can safely begin inspecting damage to electrical equipment and infrastructure.

UPDATED as of Dec. 11, 10 a.m.

SCE is requesting residential and commercial customers to significantly reduce power consumption in order to provide maximum coverage to the entire Santa Barbara area. 

As of Dec. 11 at 10 a.m., the Thomas Fire is causing intermittent outages and power surges in the Santa Barbara area, potentially affecting up to 85,000 customers. In the Ventura area, 2,052 customers are experiencing outages due to the Thomas Fire.

The Thomas Fire has intermittently interrupted the transmission lines for the Santa Barbara area, at times leaving more than 85,000 customers without electric power. The Santa Barbara area transmission emergency is not affecting other parts of SCE’s transmission system. The fire is continuing to threaten the transmission lines serving Santa Barbara.

SCE crews are continuing to monitor the situation. The utility is coordinating its emergency efforts with state, county and local officials. Generators have been deployed in numerous locations as repairs continue. Medical Baseline, Critical Care and Essential Use customers have been advised. SCE contacted all 21 of its Critical Care customers and supplied generators to 18 of them. Three declined.

Contingent on flight restrictions by fire agencies, aerial inspections will be done Monday morning in fire-affected areas.

SCE reminds customers experiencing a service interruption in the Santa Barbara area that they do not need to call SCE to report a power outage. SCE will provide the latest information on the restoration of electrical service in the Santa Barbara area on its website and via Twitter and Facebook. Customers may also download the SCE outages app on their smartphone.

SCE is requesting residential and commercial customers to significantly reduce power consumption in order to provide maximum coverage to the entire Santa Barbara area.

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As firefighters continue to battle wildfires currently scorching the Southland, first responders have given the OK for Southern California Edison planners to safely enter some areas so damage assessments can take place.

SCE’s damage assessment teams are inspecting areas damaged by the fires, including the Thomas Fire along the North Coast. Damage assessments for the Creek Fire in Sylmar and the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita have been completed. 

After fire agencies allowed access, SCE crews completed damage assessments in 80 percent of the areas to which it has been granted access (many areas of the fire remain inaccessible) that were impacted by the Thomas Fire. Assessments are complete for all areas impacted by the Creek, Rye and Liberty fires. Crews have replaced 309 of the 519 poles damaged to date in the Thomas Fire, 29 of the 57 poles damaged in the Creek Fire, 43 of the 45 poles damaged in the Rye Fire and all 14 damaged in the Liberty Fire. 

In addition to assessing the damage to electrical equipment and infrastructure — such as power poles, wires, transformers and conductors — SCE crews have also removed downed power poles so firefighters can safely access the area and fight the fires. 

SCE used helicopters to start setting poles in the areas affected by the Creek Fire. This work is scheduled to continue on Monday morning. Contingent on flight restrictions by fire agencies, aerial inspections will be done Monday morning for the Thomas Fire.

“We know the devastation is there. We are looking for what equipment and infrastructure is still there and what needs to get rebuilt,” said Brian Small, SCE senior supervisor, Distribution, who has team members currently out assessing the damage from the Thomas Fire. “We go in and get what we need so crews can then come in and make repairs as quickly and safely as possible.”

The Thomas Fire began on Dec. 4 near Santa Paula and the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita began Dec. 5. The Creek Fire near Sunland began on Dec. 5 and the Liberty Fire in Murrieta started on Dec. 7 and burned more than 300 acres.

As of Dec 11 at 10 a.m. the Thomas Fire is causing intermittent outages and power surges in the Santa Barbara area, potentially affecting up to 85,000 customers. In the Ventura area, 2,052 customers are experiencing outages due to the Thomas Fire.

SCE’s damage assessment teams are the teams that are first deployed during restoration efforts after a wildfire. In trucks and sometimes on foot, they inspect the destroyed or damaged equipment and map out how the crews will start safely making repairs.

Using GIS data and circuit maps, the teams can determine the electrical layout and assess the equipment that needs to be replaced. They will also determine the manpower needed to make the repairs. 

SCE has set up a staging yard in Ventura and has been moving necessary equipment and supplies to help restore power to areas damaged by the Thomas Fire. Key equipment currently in the Thomas Fire laydown yard include:

  • 235 poles – from 40 to 65 feet.
  • 73,000 feet of overhead and underground wire.
  • 200 transformers from 25kv to 100kv.
  • 800 crossarms from 10 to 12 feet.
  • 5 omni-rupters (overhead pole switches) – key pieces of equipment that sectionalize the circuits.

A Mobile Command Center has also been set up in the area.

“The conditions are a little rough. There is a lot of smoke so they are wearing masks to try to filter some of that out,” said Small. “The terrain is rough. Where there was brush, it is gone; where there were houses, they are gone.”

“We are responding the same way as we do any emergency,” he added. “And we are working as safely as possible.”

SCE customers across Southern California continue to experience extremely dangerous high winds, fire activity and Red Flag conditions and may lose power. Power outages and intermittent service interruptions will continue for customers as the fires burn and impact SCE facilities.

The damage assessment teams plan to work through the weekend.

Their work will likely go into next week as the teams continue to assess the devastation, said Small, who notes: “The fires are still burning.”

Customers may report or inquire about outages at 800-611-1911 and get the latest information using the SCE outages app at sce.com/outages. Customers can also get the latest information by visiting www.sce.com/staysafe or at twitter.com/sce and facebook.com/sce.

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