SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Powerline crews in Sevier County are still cleaning up after the snowstorm last week, but at least the power has been restored to residents since about Sunday afternoon.
Power wouldn’t be back on, at least not as quickly, without the help of tree trimmers.
“That’s where we come into play, trying to clear the roads and all the other debris and trees just so we can get in and get the line back up,” said Jered Underwood, a utility forester with the Sevier County Electric System. “Because, in most instances, not only was the line down, but the poles were broke as well.”
All year tree trimmers with Townsend Tree Service and Wolf Tree Service are contracted through the SCES for maintenance trimming.
Steve Springer, supervisor of vegetation management at SCES, said Sevier County is pretty much a jungle with a lot of trees, so they can’t trim every tree in the forest. They have to limit their scope to just trees in the right-of-way.
“What we’re doing is trying to make the rights-of-way around the power lines safe,” Springer said. “And what we do is we trim a minimum of a 10-foot clearance away from the power line.”
The tree trimming crews are also trained to look for any potentially hazardous tree outside of the right-of-way.
Maintenance can help prevent some power outages caused by trees, but when a storm comes, sometimes there’s no telling what will happen until after the weather blows through.
“We took trimmers with us and started trying to clear, not only the lines, but we were having to do more or less, clearing the roads,” Underwood said. “The county can only do so much as far as getting the debris and trimming the trees out of the road, but when they’re laying across the powerline they’re not going to take a chance and do anything like that, and I don’t blame them. They shouldn’t have to.”
Springer said once SCES figured out where the power was out, all of his crews and some went out with linemen removing trees.
He had at least 20 crews during yearly maintenance. Last week, those crews were put to work along with about another 12 or 13 crews from other companies.
“It’s all about access,” Springer said. “Make sure that the trees are off the lines or out of the way so the line crews can get in there an reinstall the lines or maybe set another pole.”
Underwood said without tree trimmers, the utility workers would have to do everything themselves, which would take even more time. He said he had never seen so many trees uprooted after a storm before. That made their jobs even more difficult.
“In a lot of the other storms that we say, we may just have a tree or two here or there. I’ve never seen anything like we had where everything is uprooted and it’s all down,” Underwood said.
He said on a few roads in Sevier County, such as Kings Branch area, nearly all the utility poles or lines were downed because trees were uprooted.
Both Springer and Underwood said the job of a tree trimmer is very dangerous. They are literally up in the trees, trimming or cutting at specific angles so the limbs or trunks don’t fall on them.
“At night, that’s when it particularly becomes more hazardous,” Underwood said. “You can’t see and last Monday night, if the guys were getting something you could hear trees cracking and popping in the background. You didn’t know where they was coming from.”
They all worked 16 hours a day. In the freezing cold.
Underwood said it felt like some of the worst weather they had to endure, but they couldn’t think about it. They just had to keep going to turn the lights back on.
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Once they were done, they were able to get some well-deserved rest.
“It was refreshing for everybody. We got some good crews in place,” Springer said.
Springer said SCES had been working hard on vegetation management for the last 13 years. During that time, his crews try to make connections with residents. He hopes in the future, people will have patience with them as they work hard to cut the trees and help restore power.
In the meantime, he said customers can always call and report any concerns of a tree near a power line. They will have someone come check it out.