SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Sevier County Electric is sharing some of the challenges of providing power in the mountains days after the cause of the most recent wildfires in Sevier County was released.
On April 14, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Crime Unit determined the Hatcher Mountain, Indigo Lane Fire that began on March 30 was started by downed power lines. The fire alone burned nearly 2,500 acres and impacted over 200 buildings. The high winds and low humidity levels also played a big role in the spread of the fire.
Sevier County electric’s General Manager, Allen Robbins, said once the fires were contained, it only took them a few days to get the power back onto the homes that were still standing. He explained that March 30 was a challenging day for many,
“There was a large pine tree or some large tree that had come down somewhere in the Indigo Lane area and come down and made some contact with our distribution line and there was some sparking there.”
Robbins said they spend millions of dollars in tree trimming efforts every year, but weather conditions can make any area where there are power lines dangerous.
“We live in a forest, and in our topography, we’re in mountainous terrain. So, it’s challenging, but we make a conservative effort to keep the trees trimmed or cut if needed every year.”
The alternative to overhead power lines would be to bury them, but Robbins explained that it’s not as easy as it would seem.
“If you go digging, you’re basically going to have to dig up the roads to get any underground service in and you know that’s going to cost some destabilization of roadways and things of that nature.”
He said if a problem were to occur with underground lines, it could take even longer to get power back on than it would with overhead lines.
“Getting the power back on when you do have a problem, trying to find the problem trying to isolate the problem is an issue, whereas if your overhead, you can drive out the line, you can see it, you can find it, and move on.”
Money is also a factor. It could cost a homeowner thousands of dollars for them to run just a couple of feet of lines. Robbins added, “it’s not that it’s impossible, but it is very difficult in the area that we serve.”
For those who are concerned about power lines in your area or want an estimate on how much it would cost to bury them in your neighborhood, Robbins said to give Sevier County Electric a call at (865) 453-2887, they’d be happy to make an appointment with you.
Following the deadly 2016 Gatlinburg fires , the National Park Service has attributed a combination of downed power lines and embers carried by the wind to the devastation caused by the fires. Robbins says Sevier County Electric has learned a lot from the 2016 fires and has since been working with the mayor’s office and emergency management to assess and try to prevent these types of fires from happening.