Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) officials have confirmed that a fallen power line caused a fire in Herald on Friday, Aug. 2 that burned just over 84 acres of grassland before Herald Fire Protection District (HFPD) and neighboring fire agencies could put it out.
According to Brandi Merlo with PG&E, a buildup of bird droppings, dust and morning moisture formed a “mud” capable of conducting electricity, creating a “flash over”, which caused the live wire to separate from the insulator.
The incident was detected at 5 a.m. Friday morning during an automated equipment test. After the power disruption was detected, the automated system de-energized the power line, but not before igniting the dry grassland below.
PG&E dispatched a helicopter team to search their power lines in the area. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the helicopter crew discovered the fire and called in the incident.
Located approximately 2 miles east of Clay Station Road and 2 miles north of Twin Cities, smoke and flames were reported both by PG&E and HFPD Fire Chief James Hendricks, who saw the smoke on his way into work.
Calls to report the fire were received by both Sacramento County Dispatch and CalFire’s dispatch within a couple minutes of each other. PG&E called Camino (CalFire’s dispatch center) at 9:31 a.m. and Hendricks’ call to Sacramento County Dispatch came shortly after.
Hendricks said, when he saw the smoke, he immediately went to investigate; however, due to the isolated location of the power lines, finding a way in proved difficult.
Finding a way through from Twin Cities Road, Hendricks directed responding personnel to the most direct route.
Twenty-three fire apparatus and 60 fire personnel were on scene to combat the blaze. Agencies who responded to the high priority call were HFPD, CalFire, Cosumnes Fire Department, Wilton Fire Protection District, Sacramento Metro and Sacramento County Offices of Emergency Services. The incident was cleared by 1 p.m. that afternoon.
Merlo said it took 10 hours to complete the repair. Although no residential customers were affected by the incident, there was a short outage at the Camanche powerhouse. Hendricks said one home was within one mile of the incident and, had a breeze picked up or the incident happened later in the day after the morning moisture had evaporated, the end result could have been devastating.
PG&E does not provide power within Sacramento County; however, transmission lines run through the county to connect PG&E users to its power grid.