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Catastrophic fire danger and the power to switch off supply

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Earlier this month we cut power to Port Lincoln and surrounding areas as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of a fire start during the escalating bushfire conditions. It's not a decision taken lightly.

Frank Crisci, Manager Emergency Management explained what goes into reaching a decision like this.  

“We had a situation where the fire conditions were worsening. There were very strong and strengthening winds and the fire danger conditions were escalating,” said Frank.

“Often in conditions like this where we have had a hot dry summer and windy conditions, tree branches fall on powerlines. When the powerline comes into contact with the ground, it can start a fire.”

We have only disconnected power in these circumstances ten times since 1985 and it is more likely that customers would lose power in bushfire conditions either because of damage from falling vegetation or due to damage from an actual fire.

That just reinforces the importance for people in bushfire areas to follow CFS’ advice and prepare a Bushfire Plan which includes being prepared for the possibility of losing power.

“In normal conditions, the CFS is able to respond and contain a fire, but in fire danger conditions like those at Port Lincoln on Friday, if a fire had started, CFS would not have been able to control it,” Frank said.

On Friday 5 April, we had reports of trees down around the state, and fire starts. At Port Lincoln the wind was so strong that it was moving our powerlines around quite violently. After then consulting with the CFS, we made the assessment that the fire start risk in the area was too high, so we switched off power to Port Lincoln and surrounds.

Frank said after the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983,  legislation was put in place that gives SA Power Networks as the State’s electricity distributor the authority to switch off power when we form the opinion that it’s too dangerous for the power to stay on.

“Our focus is protecting lives and property.”

In reaching the decision to switch off:

  • We use Bureau of Meteorology weather station observations
  • We consult with the Country Fire Service on localised fire danger conditions
  • We monitor media for information on impacts of local weather conditions e.g. windborne debris
  • Where it’s safe we get our experienced staff to tell us about local condition.

“Ultimately the rate of and level of escalation of the weather determines what actions are taken and how much time we have to act.”

SA Power Networks will only turn off power in extreme situations for community safety and to protect property. If you live or work in a bushfire risk area, you should get your house bush-fire ready with a Bushfire Management plan.


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