British Columbia

Fires, floods and snow: BC Hydro battling extreme conditions to keep power in the Peace

Between an early fire season, flooding and record-setting snowfalls, it's been a struggle to keep the lights on in B.C.'s northeast this year.

Unusual weather in 2016 has caused frequent power outages for people in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John

A record-setting snowfall on October 1 knocked out the power for over 3,800 customers in B.C.'s northeast. (BC Hydro/Twitter)

Between an early fire season, flooding and record-setting snowfalls, it's been a struggle to keep the lights on in B.C.'s northeast this year.

Extreme weather has repeatedly knocked out electricity to the Peace region and B.C. Hydro has changed the way it manages its crews in an effort to keep the lights on. 

"We're watching those weather forecasts much more closely," said BC Hydro community relations manager Bob Gammer. 

He said Hydro now preemptively sends crews to areas that look like they could lose power as bad weather approaches. 

"The Pine Pass is the only route, highway-wise, in B.C. to get to the Peace," he said. "So rather than find that the highway is cut off temporarily, we've got some bodies up into the region ahead of that."

BC Hydro says an early start to the fire season burned 16 transmissions poles north of Fort St. John, causing 2,800 customers to lose power. (BC Hydro)

Gammer said there are local crews and contractors in the northeast, but when extreme weather hits, Hydro calls in backups from other parts of the province.

The new model is not limited to B.C.'s northeast, but it is a part of the province that has been plagued by power outages this year.

Extreme weather in 2016

In April, an early fire season cut off electricity to 2,800 customers as flames burned through 16 power poles.

In June, heavy rain washed out the highway connecting northeast B.C. to the rest of the province, and electricity for thousands of customers was lost as flooding damaged power lines.

Overflowing banks cut off road access for hundreds of properties and "severely affected" 205. (Spectra Energy)

A lightning strike in September left virtually the entire region without power for several hours, and, on October 1, a record-setting snowfall knocked trees onto power lines, leaving 3,800 customers in the dark.

Business affected

"I was basically about two hours away from serving a giant catering order when all the power went out," said Judah Koile of the weekend's outage. Koile runs the Beam coffee shop and catering in downtown Fort St. John. 

When the power goes out so do we- Judah Koile

"Every time the power goes off we have to shut off the tills. We have to shut down the debit machine. My induction burners don't work. My confection oven doesn't work ... when the power goes out, so do we." 

Koile estimates he deals with about one outage a week, although he said most only last about an hour.

Gammer said there is no one cause for all the outages, and so it is tough to put anything in place to prevent them.

"We've had wind storms. We've had animal contacts. We've had, as I say, equipment failures," he said. "So a number of different causes."


To hear the full story click on the audio labeled 'BC Hydro battling changing weather to keep power in the Peace.'

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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