Safeguarding Skagit: Inside the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project provides clean and efficient energy to Seattle’s customers, and its idyllic location provides spectacular, Instagram-worthy views of the North Cascades and Diablo Lake. Being nestled in such a remote location does have its advantages, but it can also provide its share of challenges when minutes count. During an emergency—whether someone has a bump or bruise during a dam tour or is involved in a serious traffic accident on the North Cascades Highway—a team of City Light employees take action, changing from their daily roles at the utility to act as members of the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade.

For almost 60 years, this mostly volunteer group of first responders has gone above and beyond their assigned work duties at City Light to safeguard the residents and property of City Light, the Skagit Project and the North Cascades National Park. Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson explains “the brigade fights fires and provides an emergency response like a typical fire department would; there are situations that require backup.” That’s why in 2008, a specialized group called the Skagit Technical Response Team (STRT) was created to supplement the brigade and provide aid during unusual rescue situations. Like the brigade, STRT is a team of City Light employees who are trained beyond their day-to-day skills.

In 2016, the brigade was crucial to the containment of the Goodell Creek Fire, which severely threatened the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and the surrounding communities. For Watson, an emergency of any size is important because of the brigade’s local impact.

“We have helped friends, family, co-workers and strangers who are often having the worst day of their lives,” says Watson. “The brigade provides services that no one else in this geographical area can. When the fire alarm goes off, they have to switch gears and put on a different hat. We have a pretty extraordinary team up here.”

Last November, the fire brigade added a new vehicle to their fleet, a state-of-the-art ambulance. The new vehicle replaced a unit that had been in service for nearly 25 years. Watson and the brigade worked closely with the City Light Fleet and Mobile Equipment team to build a unit that meets their unique needs. Some of the unique features include snow chains that engage with a flip of a switch, a hydraulic lift and cabin airbags to protect first responders when treating a patient.

Thank you, Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade, for keeping the City Light employees and its visitors safe!

 

Experience the majestic beauty of the North Cascades next summer on a Skagit Tour. Skagit Tours provide a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. Visit https://www.seattle.gov/light/damtours/skagit.asp for more information!

Seattle City Light Crews Defend Skagit Hydroelectric Project from Fire

Seattle City Light crews are working today to reduce the risk of additional damage to the Skagit Hydroelectric Project from the advancing Goodell Creek Fire and are preparing to start repairs to damaged transmission lines.

Crews are working to clear vegetation around a wood pole line between the Diablo and Ross dams and powerhouses. The crews also plan to wrap the 70 wood poles in fire resistant material to reduce the risk of damage should the area burn. The line delivers backup power to restart generators and run control panels. The poles also carry fiber optic communications lines for the facilities.

Thursday, crews plan to start on-the-ground inspections 11 transmission towers for damage. Aerial views indicate that several of the towers have been damaged.

Safe access to the equipment in rugged terrain with fallen trees while the fire continues to burn is the first consideration for any of the work to take place. Provided with safe access, crews could start making repairs to the transmission lines by Saturday.

Damage to the transmission lines has limited City Light’s ability to generate and deliver power from the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. The utility has been able to resume generation of about 40 megawatts of electricity from its Gorge Powerhouse and deliver it on the North Mountain transmission line.

Typically, this time of year, the utility would be able to generate about 150 megawatts of power from the Skagit. The loss of transmission capacity is costing the utility about $100,000 a day.

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.

 

City Light steps down emergency fire response

Seattle City Light is reducing its emergency response operation to the Goodell Creek fire that threatened its facilities in the Skagit Valley.

As of noon today, the utility shut down its 24-hour department operations center in Seattle and will run the disaster response out of Newhalem.

The fire is still active, but it is not moving directly against City Light facilities.

Between Wednesday and today, winds, temperatures and dry conditions forced the evacuation of the town of Diablo and the shutting down of generation and transmission.

All staff and their families are accounted for and have alternate accommodations in Concrete, Sedro Woolley, Wenatchee and Brewster. Nobody has been injured.

Two of the three powerhouses are still off line, with Gorge powerhouse running power only to Newhalem and other local facilities. A helicopter survey yesterday showed that at least six of our transmission towers and their lines were affected by the fire. We are preparing materials and staff to stabilize the terrain and make repairs as soon as it is safe.

We are actively monitoring the situation and stand ready to relocate staff to safety if the fire worsens.

For updates, follow us on Twitter at @SEACityLight

Seattle City Light Evacuates Diablo as Goodell Creek Fire Approaches

Seattle City Light started evacuating employees Wednesday from the town of Diablo and helped evacuate visitors at the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake and at the Ross Lake Resort as the Goodell Creek Fire approached facilities at the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

The fire was burning on the north side of Highway 20 in Newhalem across from City Light’s Skagit administration building and east of the Gorge Powerhouse. Prevailing winds were pushing the fire east toward Diablo.

Highway 20 between the utility-owned towns of Newhalem and Diablo was shut down by a fallen tree and numerous rocks loosened by the fire.

No injuries have been reported. All City Light employees and their families are accounted for. Two employees did leave Newhalem earlier in the day after complaining of respiratory difficulties from the smoke.

City Light was operating its three dams remotely, but the fire forced the utility to shut down the transmission lines that carry electricity from the hydroelectric project. Spillgates at all three dams were being opened to maintain river flows to protect fish. The inability to deliver electricity could cost the utility about $100,000 per day.

Six City Light firefighters with two fire engines were working to protect people and property from the blaze. One crew was working with the National Park Service. The other was defending the Gorge Powerhouse.

Skagit Tours scheduled for Thursday through Sunday have been canceled.

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.