Wind sparks Adobe Canyon fire despite day-long tree trimming spree
Martha and Tom Haidet and their Adobe Canyon Road neighbors were awakened in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 11, by a fire in adjacent Sonoma Creek. Spotted by a vigilant night-owl, the blaze was immediately reported to 9-1-1 and responded to by Kenwood’s finest firefighters, who were already on high alert due to the winds and dry weather conditions. It was quickly extinguished and followed up with a fleet of PG&E trucks tending to the aftermath.
“Thanks to having more people at the station and the Red Flag alerts, we were ready to respond instantly,” Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach said afterward.
Haidet’s neighbors in the 700 block of Adobe Canyon Road, who did not want their names published, spotted the fire and reported it, and one of them was dousing the fire with creek water when the fire department arrived.
According to another neighbor, Davey Tree crews showed up after daylight to trim more vegetation and the PG&E crews were replacing un-insulated lines with insulated lines, raising a question of how many more un-insulated wires are installed along the road.
The incident calls into question the effectiveness of a massive tree trimming and removal effort on Nov. 7. Adobe Canyon Road was officially closed to all traffic from 7:15 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., though residents weren’t allowed back until 6:30 in the evening. According to residents who stayed home all day, many power lines were taken down before the trimming and felling commenced. Power was restored at 8:40 p.m.
A small army of trucks, men and women in hard hats and orange vests, along with other officials, gathered at the mouth of the canyon long before sunrise on Wednesday, Nov. 7, to begin what PG&E calls an accelerated vegetation management program. More than 40 trucks and well over 120 people were involved in the project, including sub-contractors from as far away as Los Angeles, traffic control units, high-lifts, and heavy moving equipment to handle big tree trunks.
New state regulations require that vegetation be trimmed back a minimum of four feet from power lines, and require trimming to a 12-foot safety margin to leave room for new growth until the next inspections are made.
The formerly tree-shaded access road for Sugarloaf State Park has a more airy, sunnier look following the work, but it did not reach the scale of removal many residents feared, having seen what happened on Trinity Road earlier this month. Extensive burning and removal have denuded much of the landscape along that road into some of the most heavily scarred acreage in the Mayacamas mountain range.
Adobe Canyon Road residents first learned about the all-day tree trimming in an Oct. 23 letter from PG&E. PG&E Spokesperson Deanna Contreras said, “We sent this letter along with automated phone calls, and canvassed the area (talked to customers in-person and knocked on doors). I don’t have specific tree count information at this time, but PG&E is doing this work across our service territory in high fire-threat areas (including Kenwood and Glen Ellen) because of the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires facing our state. PG&E is committed to working together with our customers to create even greater clearances between trees and power lines to further reduce wildfire risks and keep customers safe. This safety work is to address overhanging branches, limbs, and trees that have the potential to come into contact with power lines.”
The letter said PG&E is undertaking “urgent wildfire safety work” to create greater clearances between power lines and vegetation. PG&E’s website information says that, “crews are working to complete as much of this critical wildfire safety work as possible before the end of the 2018 wildfire season. The work is taking place over 7,100 miles of distribution power lines that are located in areas the California Public Utilities Commission has identified as being at extreme risk for wildfire.”
High winds and smoky days have been the daily weather in Sonoma Valley since Nov. 8, as wildfires even more devastating than our own have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres in Eastern and Southern California, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying thousands of residences. As of this printing, these fires continue to expand. The County Health Department has warned that some county areas are already in unhealthy or very unhealthy air quality ranges, reminding people to limit their time outdoors and avoid outdoor exertion. Children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease are most at risk for harmful impacts. No smoke related emergencies had been reported as of Nov. 11, according to county public information officer Briana Khan.