The Labor Day fire of 2020 torched Malden (shown above) and Pine City. (Credit Seattle Times)
This year, Washington State was hit unusually hard with unprecedented wildfires. The Seattle Times just took a deep dive into the causes and impacts of the Labor Day wildfires that devastated parts of Washington State.
The Times estimated the deadly combination of windstorms and downed electrical powers lines resulted in 47 man-made wildfires that destroyed 170 homes and 158,000 acres of land.
With the Climate Crisis, man-made, electrical sparked wildfires are becoming more frequent in the western United States. California’s electrical Utilities have struggled mightily in the past five years to find a balance of providing electricity to their customers without putting communities at risk of wildfires from downed or poorly maintained electrical lines, typically in remote or difficult to access locations.
Utilities have tried shutting down parts of the grid during windstorms however this creates a new set of issues. People are reliant on electricity for cooking, heating, refrigeration, and even medical devices that require electricity 24/7.
The number and severity of the wildfires in Washington, including the west side of the Cascades this year should be a wake-up call to our policymakers and electrical Utilities to accelerate the transition to a smart-grid, capable of quickly isolating power lines at risk.
Antiquated centralized electrical grids (one power plant sending electricity to many locations) are becoming dangerous and hard to manage. Decentralized grids (many power generators located closer to the user) combined with smart-grid technology, energy storage and renewable energy provide a method to quickly isolate areas at risk while continuing to provide electricity to locations where it’s safe to leave the power lines energized.
Solar installed on a home or business with battery back-up is a great example of one component of a decentralized electrical grid. Puget Sound Solar is installing a solar plus energy storage system (a microgrid) on Seattle Parks Department’s Miller Community Center in the coming months. The Center will become an emergency hub for the community in times of power outages. (We also install solar and battery back-up systems for homeowners who want to ensure they have power no matter what happens to the electrical grid.)
As the Climate Crisis worsens, the increasing risk of future loss of life, property and wildlife habitats directly attributable to man-made causes can be significantly mitigated. We have the technology but need the willpower to invest in an improved electrical grid.
Our thoughts are with the families who continue to recuperate from these devastating fires.
One way we can all help now is by donating to the United Way Pacific Northwest Wildfire Relief & Recovery fund – https://www.uwpnw.org/wildfire.
We can also contact and urge our elected leaders to take proactive actions to protect our community from man-made wildfires.