Protecting T&D Assets From Wildfire Damage

July 27, 2020
Improvements in products and technologies are helping utilities to minimize the effect of wildfires on their infrastructure.

The 2017-2019 wildfire events have spurred on utilities to improve fire mitigation plans to reduce the risk that utility infrastructure might cause another catastrophic wildfire. These measures include replacing old poles using new technology on new poles and even planned power outages to eliminate the risk that they will fail and catch fire. This is all fine when the time comes to reenergize the infrastructure and there is one to use. One such problem is the loss of utility poles that have been burnt off at the base due to undergrowth and poles that have been totally burnt.

We must build a resilient infrastructure that can combat these problems so that when it comes time for a utility to reenergize that there is an infrastructure in place to be used and minimize the effect on consumers. Since most people in the developed world consider a reliable supply of power to be an assumed right. Regions that are in the planned power outages will disrupt livelihoods and impact schools, businesses and households leading to expenses related to loss of income and property. This will be compounded by the amount of time it takes if the infrastructure is damaged and must be replaced.

Numerous systems have been used by utilities and pole owners to prepare for such disasters and reduce the risk of fire damage to poles and possible failures. The government has increased the laws according to good right-of-way-practices and utilities are taking steps to remove all brush from the base of the pole which is helpful but does not protect the pole from damage if it catches fire.

 Old wooden poles have been replaced with steel, concrete and poles of different compositions which have shown to be effective but come with a high price tag and is not always practical in environmental sensitive and difficult terrain. This is also very costly if the pole is fresh in its life cycle It is imperative that a product used to protect poles from fires have several attributes, such as: 

1. Safe to apply. Products that are applied in the field that contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)are a risk to the applicator and the environment. These compounds require education on storage, use of application and proper PPE. Also the equipment needed to apply such components increases the risk of spills and the safe disposal of the containers and leftover material. There are other applications such as wraps and barriers that are directly applied to the pole. Consistency is always a factor in the thickness of the product. While effective, it could be counter-productive in the sense that it is difficult to check the integrity of the pole. It may be only good for one burn, and if it is good for more burns, it may take more time and equipment to complete the job once it comes time to replace it. 

2. Allow the pole to breathe. This will prevent moisture decay, which can reduce the life cycle of the pole.

3. Easy to install. The complexity of the product increases both the cost of training including the amount of equipment. Training labor and retaining personnel is costly and we must all do whatever is possible to protect the from hazardous situations.

With the improvement of intumescent coatings over the last 75 years it has come to the point where the processes and uses were restricted. Due to the drawbacks of intumescent product, which was weight curing and application, these problems have been solved with a factory cast foam cover, which is light and durable and resists numerous burns and is easy to install. This cover has been in numerous fires and tests to prove its durability and quality. It is light consistent in thickness and can be applied to a pole in less than 10 minutes. It has a life cycle of more than 50 years and is aesthetically pleasing. The half sections come in 4-ft lengths and can lifted while placing another section underneath be as high as one wants whereas 8 ft is recommended

One of these covers was subjected to a propane torch flame for 30 minutes without burn through. The cover was intact with the inside temperature not exceeding 300 deg F far below the flash point of lumber.

As the risks associated with wildfires increase,  products have been improved to combat damage and destruction of assets and protect the environment.

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