electric

A charred and broken Okanogan County Public Utility District pole sits on a burnt hillside below the Bonneville Power Administration transmission line off Cameron Lake Road, Okanogan.

OKANOGAN – Although some areas within the Cold Springs Fire area remain smoldering, the Okanogan County Public Utility District has restored electricity to customers whose service can be restored.

The district suffered more than $7 million in damage to its transmission and distribution systems.

Now that most customers are back on line, the district’s crews are helping neighboring utilities’ efforts.

The fire began Sept. 6 southeast of Omak and west of Omak Lake.

Crews “followed the black all the way down the valley,” Operations Manager Randy Bird told PUD commissioners Sept. 14 during their regular meeting.

Since the fire began, the PUD also has worked with a handful of contractors on target areas.

Four transmission lines feed the PUD system – three from Bonneville Power Administration and one from Douglas County PUD’s Wells Dam.

Chief Engineer Dan Simpson shared a summary of events during the fire as all four outside transmission lines were de-energized at different times and more than $7 million damage occurred to the PUD’s own transmission and distribution systems.

The Foster Creek transmission line around Bridgeport has been an area of major focus to get more transmission back into the county, according to the utility. The Loup line also was damaged, along with the Okanogan-Sandflat line.

The entire Okanogan-Brewster line, much of which is alongside Highway 97, already was on the short list for rebuilding because of its age, so district officials say they hope to begin a major rebuild soon. About 40 percent of the line was destroyed in the fire.

Crews have been working 18-hour days to get electricity back, Bird said. Although those long shifts might end soon, there will be more work to do, with 10 miles of transmission lines to repair and stabilize the system, which is currently running off one outside transmission line instead of four.

The PUD is sending one crew to assist Douglas County PUD and a second crew to Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative, which Bird said have been “hurt harder by this.”

“Amen – send them over!” said Commissioner Scott Vejraska, who called into the meeting from his work as a lineman for the co-op.

Bird also said crews have received many donations of goodies, cards and lots of thanks, which has helped give linemen an extra boost to get through the long days.

Director of Power Resources and Broadband Services Ron Gadeberg said the district lost both ends of its fiber optics loop through the county. On the north end, wind knocked trees over the fiber line outside Cusick early Labor Day, and fires burned up the fiber outside Bridgeport in the evening. The district then was without fiber and phones until the north end was repaired overnight.

When the north end came on, much of the traffic could be re-routed, but there has been difficulty since in getting services back on fully. Douglas County PUD repaired the southern end, and circuits are coming back online, but there is still more work to be done before all Internet and phone services are restored county-wide, said Okanogan County PUD officials.

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