Electra Fire burning 100 miles from Bay Area can impact utilities in region

Beyond the damage to property and habitat that the Electra Fire is causing in the Sierra foothills, the Bay Area could also see consequences.

The fire, which is burning about a 100 miles from the Bay Area, can impact power and water supplies for the region.

Fire debris from the Electra fire will create a lot of ash and other organic materials that can fall or later wash into the Upper Mokelumne water shed. That flows directly into the East Bay Municipal Utility District's Pardee Reservoir, which could create water quality issues for the 1.4 million customers the utility serves.

"We are keeping an eye on the water quality. So, once the fire clears, we'll be doing an assessment, and we'll be working with the Bureau of Land Management, to check the soil, to check the water quality and treat the water accordingly," said EBMUD Spokesperson Andrea Pook.

Water utilities are used to dealing with all kinds of contaminants in their water supply.

"EBMUD water treatment plants will handle the situation, but we want to know exactly, more specifically what the situation is and see if we need to make any adjustments to our processes," said Pook.

Cal Fire said that various critical electricity facilities are also threatened, including 11 major distribution and transmission poles and towers.

Pacific Gas & Electric said it's closely monitoring some hydroelectric generation, powerhouse, and substation facilities. As the fire continues to spread, some additional power shutoffs may be necessary.

Thick, heavy smoke is filled with many particulates and when the smoke runs between the lines it can short out and cause huge interruptions.

The utility has chosen to cut power in major fire areas locally and rerouting the power to non-fire areas.

"Surgically reducing and de-energizing lines to make them safe during fires is a lot better than PG&E's previous proactive of having massive de-energizing of every time the wind blows," said Mark Toney, director of The Utility Reform Network.

A year ago, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon threatened an electricity inner tie that sends power to Northern California, That could have instantly cut the energy of ten large natural gas-fired power plants to the Golden State.