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Eighty U.S. Wildfires Are Burning Right Now: What Electric Utilities Can Learn From California’s Experience

Sept. 1, 2023
PG&E's Dave Canny is one of several California wildfire mitigation experts who will discuss related electric utility challenges during a Sept. 12 panel, 'California Wildfire Mitigation Plans and Strategies.'

After the Aug. 8 wildfire that leveled most of Lahaina, Maui, people outside of utilities and states prone to the disasters took notice. Wildfire causes and prevention entered mainstream conversations across the globe.

On Aug. 28, 80 current wildfires burned 657,822 acres in 14 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The previous day, two new fires erupted in Oregon. Another popped up in Texas. (See NASA’s live fire map here.) More than 20,400 wildland firefighters are responding. Data from the NIFC shows that in 2023, 38,831 wildfires have burned 1.9 million acres in the U.S. Six of those current fires are in California, a state where electric utilities know the financial and legal exposure related to wildfires. 

“With climate change fully upon us, a comprehensive and continuously improving approach to wildfire mitigation and prevention is a core part of utilities’ operations and approach to risk mitigation,” said Dave Canny, senior director of wildfire mitigation at PG&E Corp., based in San Francisco.

“We need to partner with each other — utility to utility, customers, vendors and other stakeholders — to deliver on mitigating this evolving and growing threat,” he said.

Canny is one of several California wildfire mitigation experts who will discuss related electric utility challenges during a Sept. 12 panel, “California Wildfire Mitigation Plans and Strategies.” The session is part of the T&D World Live Conference in Sacramento, California. Panelists joining Canny will be: Thuan Tran, principal manager of asset engineering at Southern California Edison (SCE); and Suzie Rose, program and project supervisor of the Electric Safety Policy Division at the California Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety. Laura Manz, principal of L J Manz Consulting, will moderate.

Rose, whose office is responsible for evaluating the wildfire risk reduction efforts of California’s electrical corporations, will discuss technical aspects of the state’s guidelines. Canny and Tran will share their utilities’ latest wildfire strategies and mitigation measures, including SCE’s three-layer approach to wildfire mitigation.

Tran, an electrical engineer who joined SCE after graduating from the University of California, Irvine, will discuss grid hardening, detection and asset monitoring systems, and testing advanced protection schemes. He called the session “crucial to the industry” and said utilities can see an example of how to approach and implement wildfire mitigation standards by learning and understanding the ignition root cause and developing solutions to execution.

“This would be helpful to other utilities that are facing the same challenges,” Tran said. “The takeaway is that there’s no one solution to wildfire mitigation, but multiple layers in solving the problem.”

Canny has worked at PG&E since 2006. He will focus on the utility’s wildfire operational mitigations, particularly protective equipment and emerging technologies. To date, PG&E’s Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) program has dropped California Public Utilities Commission-reportable ignitions in High Fire-Threat Districts by 34% overall. Canny began working on the systemwide rollout of the EPSS in January 2022. Now he’s responsible for day-to-day operations and strategic leadership for EPSS and Public Safety Power Shutoff.

“I have been involved in responding to a variety of emergencies, but the most impactful to me have been wildfires and how devastating they can be to communities,” Canny said. “As a result, I am passionate about our moving from disaster response to disaster prevention.”

The T&D World Live Conference will be Sept. 12-14 in Sacramento. Registration, conference and event details are available on the conference website.

Kristen Wright is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering global utilities, petroleum and policy. She is chief strategist at Kristen Wright Strategic Communications. Reach her at [email protected] and wrightkristenm on LinkedIn.

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