Safety & Security

PEC vegetation maintenance practices can help fight wildfires

Former firefighter brings important perspective to PEC

PEC’s Vegetation Maintenance Team has the important job of trimming and managing trees and other vegetation around PEC power lines and electrical equipment in order to provide safe, reliable power. On June 5, a well-kept PEC easement helped local fire departments contain a grass fire in Spicewood.

Thinking like a firefighter

Senior Utility Forester Matt Austin spent nearly 20 years as a wildland firefighter before coming to PEC. With his background, Austin sees every situation through the lens of fire safety, making him a valuable addition to the team. Where most people would simply see an easement allowing PEC access to maintain its equipment, Austin sees a firebreak. A firebreak is a physical barrier that can prevent the spread of fire by depriving the fire of things to burn. PEC’s easements make natural firebreaks, and can also provide firefighters with safe access and a place to hold the line against a fire.

PEC is responsible for managing 304 miles of vegetation along transmission lines alone, not including the distribution lines that carry power from substations to members. Every mile of easement represents a potential firebreak — and on the evening of June 5, a transmission easement in Spicewood acted as just that during a grass fire. Because the easement was mowed, the fire could not burn across it; and because it was accessible, local fire departments were able to utilize it as a holding point to control the fire.

Before vegetation maintenance After vegetation maintenance

These before and after pictures of an easement connecting two PEC substations demonstrate the impact of good vegetation maintenance. The after photo shows an area with less potential fuel for a fire and better access for firefighters.

On your property

A big part of the job in vegetation maintenance is trimming or removing trees that restrict necessary access to our equipment or pose a safety threat. Understandably, many members are reluctant to have the natural elements of their property cut or removed. Austin said his experience as a firefighter makes it easier to explain how important this process is to our members.

“When you can convey the potential danger of fire ignition from tree contact, people understand the necessity,” he said. “No one wants to lose their property, or worse, have a fire spread from their property and cause widespread damage.”

With devastating wildfires in the news the past couple of years, there is an increased awareness of the importance of diligent fire safety practices.

“A fire can overtake a whole community in a couple of hours. We do everything we can to prevent it from happening here, and we want our members to help us ensure their safety,” Austin said.

What you can do

As the saying goes, if you see something, say something. If you notice vegetation near power lines or electrical equipment and think it might pose a risk, request tree-care service online or call us at 888-554-4732. Do your best to keep your property clear of flammable debris such as dead oak leaves. And if you have a gated property that PEC workers or firefighters may need access to, contact PEC and your local fire department. Coordinating a lock that allows quick access to your property could make a crucial difference.