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St. George, Utah, utility works to restore water service disrupted by wildfires

The St. George’s Energy Services Department in Utah is working to restore service to critical water infrastructure knocked out of service by wildfires this month.

The fire caused outages to a city owned hydro facility and three wells that fill a three million-gallon tank that provides water to one area of the city.

“We have been able to restore power to the hydro facility and to one well, which has provided water to that area although water pressure is lower than normal,” Rene Fleming, manager of energy and water customer services, said via email.

Aside from the water facilities, the wildfires did not cause any outages for the utility’s residential or commercial customers.

On July 13, the public power utility received notice of a wildfire near its radial transmission line and substation. “A couple of hours later, we were notified of a second fire about 26 miles south, at the other end of the transmission system near another substation,” Fleming said.

The utility dispatched linemen to monitor its equipment and facilities and the progress of the fires, which were exacerbated by air temperatures of 110°F and high winds. The linemen also relayed information back to the utility’s system control operators about the progress of the fires.

The fires destroyed 35 wooden utility poles on a distribution circuit that feeds the water station. The utility plans to replace the wood poles with steel poles that recently arrived.

“Line crews will be working overtime to implement the plan developed to replace poles and wires so that service is restored to the affected water infrastructure,” Fleming said.

Upon completion of a more thorough analysis of the work to be done, Fleming said the utility estimates it will take 14 days to restore power to the other two wells. “We plan to start the project on Saturday, July 18.”

The fires that affected St. George’s Energy Services Department’s lines and substations were the first of the season that affected the utility. “Because of the single corridor into our area, all of the 26-mile radial feed is susceptible to fire,” Fleming said. “Our system control operators monitor several sites that provide fire alerts so that we are aware of and can quickly respond to any fires that could threaten the radial feed corridor.”

The first fire, near the radial transmission line and substation, is the Veyo West Fire. The second fire, at the other end of the transmission corridor, is the Turkey Farm Road Fire. As of Friday, July 17 there were still some hot spots on the Turkey Farm Road Fire that were being monitored, but the fire was contained. The Veyo West Fire was 25% contained as of Friday, and winds have blown it away from the utility’s power infrastructure.

As of late June, Utah has had 468 wildfire starts, which compares with 135 wildfire starts in the same period in 2019 and 360 starts in 2018. Southern Utah, where St. George is located, had a wet winter and spring, which spurred the growth of grass, but since then hot temperatures and low humidity have been drying out vegetation rapidly.

In addition, increases in outdoor recreation since COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place have the potential to lead to more fire ignitions.

Local authorities suspect that the Turkey Farm Road fire was ignited by fireworks.