The Cambrian

Have you seen helicopters hovering over SLO County? Here’s what they’re up to

Helicopters will fly over the North Coast and North County this week and next as inspectors closely check approximately 25,000 miles of power lines.

The inspections are among the firm’s wildfire safety measures being done in advance of the 2019 wildfire season. Data collected in the helicopter inspections will help PG&E identify hazardous trees that could fall into the lines, according to a May 14 press release.

Mark Mesesan, principal PG&E marketing/communications representative, said in phone and email interviews that the helicopter inspection will follow this schedule: Atascadero and Templeton on May 16; Cayucos on May 17; Paso Robles, Templeton and Cambria on May 18 and 19; Paso Robles and San Miguel on May 20.

The helicopters will fly at an altitude of about 300 to 500 feet. Automated phone calls were scheduled to notify residents in advance. (Some of those happened in Cambria on Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and 14; the calls indicated the flights were to happen between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.)

The release said the inspections will be “in locations that have been designated as at elevated or extreme risk of wildfire based on the California Public Utilities Commission high-fire-threat district map.”

After May 20, the inspections move farther north and east, outside of San Luis Obispo County.

The inspections

The helicopters are equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology, which was also extensively used in studying the terrain so drastically changed by the 2017 Mud Creek landslide on Highway 1, about 9 miles north of Ragged Point.

“The devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfires have made it overwhelmingly clear to PG&E that more must be done, and with greater urgency, to address the threat of wildfires and extreme weather,” Mesesan said. “As part of our commitment to safety, we are expanding and accelerating our wildfire safety measures to do all that is possible to help keep our customers, our communities and our state safe.

“These aerial inspections of our equipment are an important part of that overall effort.”

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PG&E said in February that it’s “probable” that it was responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire that killed at least 85 people and destroyed about 14,000 structures. The company, facing billions of dollars in possible liabilities filed for bankruptcy in January.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he will closely monitor PG&Es compliance with new wildfire-prevention rules governing tree-trimming near power lines. Alsup is supervising the utility company’s felony probation stemming from its conviction in the case of a massive natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010.

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