Archive for August, 2009


Red Tailed Hawk Electrocuted, Sparking Yuba & Nevada County Fire

At the time of writing this blog post, over 3 square miles of Yuba & Nevado Counties have burned.

Calfire tanker drops fire retardant over the Yuba Fire Saturday. Photo by CalFire / Wes Shultz

Calfire tanker drops fire retardant over the Yuba Fire Saturday. Photo by CalFire / Wes Shultz

The fire’s cause has been identified as a red tailed hawk  electrocuted in the powerlines. Please see Dry Winds, Heat Fan Wildfires Across California

That fire, which was ignited by burning feathers from a red-tailed hawk that flew into a power line, was more than 15 percent contained, but about 600 homes were still threatened Sunday. Voluntary evacuations remain in effect for parts of the community…The Colgate Powerhouse — the oldest powerhouse in the state — and two others were powered down, along with four major power lines. Together, they produce 300 Megawatts of power for the area…About 1,385 fire personnel are in the area fighting that blaze, though the steep, rough terrain made their work difficult

This problem, technical termed  “Avian Powerline Interaction,” remains a largely unknown issue outside  of the scientific, regulatory and energy utility community. But it is one which as you read has a major toll: costly power outages, fires, risk to human life and communities; wildlife injury or death.  At the time of writing the costs of fighting this one blaze were calculated to be $1.8 million.

Many utilities, PG&E being one of them, have programs in place to prevent and respond to this problem. Please read: PG&E Renews Avian Protection and Recieves  Audubon’s First Ever Corporate Achievement Award & Avian Protection Plan . You can also visit to learn more.

But in reading these documents a few questions emerge. As  of 2007, PG&E had retrofitted and made “Bird Safe” over 12,000 power poles, obviously a substantial investment and effort. But how many power polesof line out of their 70,000 square mile grid and service area does this represent? It would also be interesting to see the PG&E analysis and mapping that highlights the risk zones where migratory birds, fire fuel load and the power grid overlap. And with this mapping, how much work remains and how much would that work be estimated to cost?

We wish the communities impacted by this fire a speedy recovery, extend our thanks to the fire fighting personnel tackling this blaze as well as the utilities and conservation groups working to eliminate this problem in the first place.