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Idaho Power monitoring shutting off power in certain 'high-risk' areas to mitigate wildfire risks

The overall goal of Idaho Power's “Public Safety Power Shutoff" plan is to prevent power lines from starting wildfires.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Power is rolling out its “Public Safety Power Shutoff" plan to help reduce the number of wildfires started by power lines and protect the power grid.

The plan is part of Idaho Power’s fire mitigation efforts. A team of atmospheric scientists is monitoring weather and fire conditions, like high winds and dry vegetation. Communications Specialist Sven Berg said they will shut off power once those conditions become too extreme.  

The agency identified nine “high-risk” zones across Idaho, mostly in and around the Idaho City area, Garden Valley and Lake Cascade. Berg said 5,000 people live in those zones, which is less than 1% of Idaho’s customer base.  

Berg said it is not unheard of for power lines to start wildfires. Most often, a tree branch touches a power line and something sparks.

In the past, Idaho Power has de-energized lines to keep firefighters safe, but they have never proactively turned off because of wildfire risk. Being prepared is important, Berg said, especially considering wildfires are only getting worse and more frequent.

“We want to just take an extra step and being careful about making sure that communities are safe, our employees are safe, that customers are safe,” Berg said.

Turning off power is a last resort and if it does happen, he said they are not sure how long power would stay off. Other prevention methods include installing spark prevention units and wrapping the base of wood poles in a fire-resistant mesh.

Berg said assessing what your family needs to get by without electricity is key. Some families have medical equipment that needs to run on electricity and others have livestock with water that needs to be pumped.

To help spread the word about possible power shutoffs, Idaho Power is working with first responders in the nine zones. Berg also encourages customers to update their contact information on the website. Idaho Power's goal is to notify customers 24-to-48 hours in advance if power will get shut off.

It is possible Idaho Power could cut power in other areas for wildfire prevention. However, it is far less than likely than in the “high-risk” areas. Berg said making sure everyone is aware of the process and has updated information is important.

“Power is a really important part of people's lives,” Berg said. “It's better to have the plan in place and know exactly how it's going to unfold.”

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