WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following news that recent fires in New Mexico were caused by downed power lines, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are encouraging cooperation between utility companies and federal agencies to keep trees away from power lines and reduce the risk of wildfires. Downed power lines have caused several wildfires, including the Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge fires currently burning in northern New Mexico.
In letters to the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture and the electric power companies and coops that service New Mexico, the senators urged them to implement existing standards and examine the current regulations in order to find areas for improvement so that they may work together to prevent wildfires. They also noted the importance of these measures due to extreme drought and thousands of miles of power lines that run through federal forests.
"We would like to urge you to ensure that current standards of safety and prevention are being met with even greater than usual vigilance," the senators wrote to the executives of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, PNM Resources, Xcel Energy, New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association and El Paso Electric.
"During New Mexico’s ongoing severe drought, extra attention to vegetation management practices and quick responses to downed lines will be an important step in preventing dangerous wildfires that threaten our forests, residents, and utility infrastructure. Certain areas where dead or dying trees are exposed to winds near power lines are likely to be of high risk for starting these types of fires and would benefit from extra attention."
"As you work with industry in managing for protection of our dry forests, we would ask that you carefully examine the existing standards for safety and vegetation management in linear rights-of-way, and identify any issues or improvements that could be made to reduce the risk of wildfire ignitions," the senators wrote Secretaries Sally Jewel and Tom Vilsack. "In addition, we would request an explanation of current requirements for linear right-of-way special use permits especially in relation to vegetation management plans, any ongoing complaints with this process, and needed improvements. Your responses will help New Mexicans understand how federal and industry partners are working together to prevent wildfires in our state and what improvements can be made to protect residents' lives and public lands while saving taxpayer costs from fighting fires."
Udall and Heinrich also encouraged the utility companies to remind customers that they are responsible for maintaining the areas around the power lines that serve their own private property.