PG&E flying low in Humboldt County to look for dead trees

A Pacific Gas and Electric hard hat at a San Francisco work site.

EUREKA, Calif. - As part of its response to California's tree mortality crisis, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) will conduct aerial patrols via helicopter in Humboldt County on Thursday, Nov. 30, to identify dead trees that could pose a wildfire or other public safety risk.

"Even with the wet winter last year and recent rains here in Humboldt County, five years of drought in California have caused millions of trees to die or become structurally compromised," Carl Schoenhofer, senior manager of PG&E's Humboldt Division said. "That's why we've added enhanced measures to help keep the communities we serve safe.

Every year, PG&E inspects and monitors every overhead electric transmission and distribution line, with some locations patrolled multiple times. Since the tree mortality crisis began, the energy company has increased foot and aerial patrols in high fire-risk areas to twice a year and up to four times a year in some locations. Last year, PG&E conducted secondary patrols on 61 percent of power lines, and in 2017, expects to patrol 65 percent of lines a second time.

Flights will occur over the towns of Fort Seward, Alderpoint and Blocksburg and the communities of Harris and Zenia.

Depending on clear weather conditions, flights leave Murray Field in Eureka around 8 a.m. and conduct patrols through 4 p.m.

Patrolling by air allows the company to cover several miles quickly and efficiently, and reduces impacts on the ground, according to PG&E. Residents are advised that the helicopter will fly low - about 200 to 300 feet - along distribution power lines, and higher in areas where livestock are present.

If patrols identify dead trees, PG&E will send inspectors on foot to verify a tree is dead, and then contact the homeowner or landowner to schedule tree work.