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Making Back Country Safer During Fire Season

— Proposed rules changes that are meant to make the back country safer during fire season were well received at a public hearing yesterday. But there were some points of disagreement. KPBS reporter Katie Orr has details.

The California Public Utilities Commission held the hearing as a way to get feedback on several rule changes it’s considering. For instance, utility companies would be required to comply with PUC investigations. There would also be regularly scheduled inspections of utility poles.

David Geier is with San Diego Gas and Electric. He says the company supports the rule changes, but wishes the PUC would go further in some areas.

“In the east county, the law is that we have to trim the trees to four feet away from our wires. We believe that maybe isn’t enough in these very high risk areas. And we’re proposing to go to wider separation between the trees and our wires,” he says.

The crowd at the hearing was supportive of the rule changes. But there were some issues speakers felt weren’t addressed. Dianne Conklin is with a community organization in Ramona.

She says the PUC should look more closely at the effect of wind on spreading fires. “They can be small, they can burn, maybe even go out, maybe even be unnoticed,” She says. “Or they can get a little larger and be reported or they can blow up into catastrophic fires. The bottom line is that wind is the difference.”

Several speakers also called on SDG&E to put more of its power lines underground to further reduce the threat of fire. The PUC wants to make any rule changes before the fire season begins in the fall.

Katie Orr, KPBS News.

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