Meet the crews rebuilding power infrastructure after the wildfire

Nearly a month of on-the-ground effort nearing completion

Amidst a charred landscape, piles of debris, and talcum powder dust, a crew is tackling one of the final major projects in getting electricity back to one of the hardest hit wildfire-ravaged parts of the rural West Kelowna area.

This particular BC Hydro team is erecting 50-foot poles on either side of a canyon to the north, that will reconnect rural residents with power. The existing infrastructure was destroyed by the harrowing events of almost a month ago.

The marathon reconstruction work is coming to its conclusion. So far, it has involved the replacement of around 440 poles, 27 kilometres of wires and about 70 transformers. But the work by BC Hydro crews, FortisBC, and other contractors, actually started at the outset of the McDougall Creek wildfire.

“When this first started we were alongside BC Wildfire Service and structural crews like the West Kelowna Fire Department and others,“ Kelowna’s Tony Jensen, Distribution Field Manager with BC Hydro told Kelowna10. “We’re cutting the lines and the poles out of the way so they can get to where they need to go to fight the fire.”

Thankfully, the firefight is now largely over, and most of the rural residents that have spent weeks on evacuation order are being allowed to return home.

“We’re doing everything we can to get you home as quickly as possible,” Jensen said. “As you get home, if you don’t have power, please call BC Hydro; there’s probably a reason why we haven’t hooked you up. We’ll look after you as quickly as possible.”

As of Thursday, BC Hydro said crews had restored power to about 1,200 homes, which is 90 per cent of the customers impacted by the fire. While the majority of that is complete, the utility said there is still some very complex work to go, and the hope is for nearly every customer to be restored near the end of next week.

Doug Swoboda, a sub-foreman lineman with BC Hydro, is supervising the efforts on the new red and white striped power poles being positioned on the canyon’s edge. The intricate connecting of all the wires and attachments across the valley will follow in the coming days.

He was evacuated for eight days because of the wildfire and fully appreciates the anguish the community has gone through, as many have lost their homes.

“It’s sad to see, knowing we’re doing our best to bring power back, but a lot of these people are going to come back to nothing,” he said. “But anything we can do to make people’s lives easier coming back to their homes, we get a sense of pride and accomplishment doing that.”

And Swoboda highlights the feel-good factor of being part of a bigger team effort to rebuild so much damaged infrastructure.

“In our trade there’s a camaraderie among our local crews; we get close to one another. We consider ourselves a brotherhood, we become like family,” he explained. “You do feel like everybody is part of one big group. It’s a common goal to get everyone’s power back on.”

Much has been said, and quite rightly, about the efforts of various fire departments, police and other responders in preventing any fatalities and saving thousands of homes during last month’s wildfires. Jensen says there’s a mutual appreciation for the extraordinary efforts so many different experts and ordinary citizens have brought to the table in recent weeks.

“We’ve had many, many conversations with the fire folks over the last few weeks and the joint admiration from them to us and us to them is enormous,” he says with a degree of emotion and community pride. “There’s no shortage [of thanks] for all the folks that are out there helping each other trying to help them rebuild from this.”

Published 2023-09-14 by Glenn Hicks

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