Lineworkers Toil to Restore Power in Texas in Wake of Wildfires

Lineworkers replace hundreds of poles in an effort to restore power to parts of the Texas panhandle ravaged by the worst wildfire in Texas history. (Photo By: North Plains Electric Cooperative)

Crews from eight electric cooperatives joined hard-hit North Plains Electric Cooperative to restore power in the wake of devastating wildfires that scorched the Texas panhandle and left some members in the dark for a week.

About 270 North Plains Electric meters remained in the dark as of March 5, down from a peak of nearly 3,300. Most of the work remained in the area of Canadian, part of the estimated 1.2 million acres burned by the Smokehouse Creek fire, the largest in the state’s history.

Randy Mahannah, general manager and executive vice president of Perryton, Texas-based North Plains Electric, said initial damage assessments are in the range of $2 million, though that is a preliminary estimate.

Wildfires in the Texas-Oklahoma panhandle turned dozens of poles into charred heaps of wood, such as this one from Northwestern Electric Cooperative. (Photo By: Northwestern Electric Cooperative)

“Our community and our region are very resilient,” he said. “We will recover. It’s just going to take some time and a little bit of healing.”

More than 60 lineworkers from neighboring co-ops labored in challenging circumstances, replacing charred poles, transformers, reclosers and regulators. The sandy loam terrain in the Canadian area complicated matters, Mahannah said, requiring specialized equipment just to get to poles and structures.

In the Canadian River basin, water percolated to the top upon digging a hole, with the sand side walls then caving in, he noted. “It’s a little bit of a challenge,” he said. “It is very tricky to set a pole when you have water at the surface of the ground.”

The wildfire, only about 15% contained as of March 5, consumed at least 370 poles across North Plains Electric’s rural territory and wiped out more than 500 in the pole yard at its Canadian office. New poles were coming in through coordination by Texas Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association based in Austin.

Three cooperative employees were among the dozens who lost homes to the inferno. “It is just devastating,” Mahannah said.

He praised the work of neighboring cooperatives, part of a mutual aid program through members of Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, a G&T based in nearby Amarillo, that commits at least five lineworkers and equipment to a co-op in need.

Cooperatives responding to the mutual aid call included Deaf Smith Electric Cooperative, Hereford; Lamb County Electric Cooperative, Littlefield; Lighthouse Electric Cooperative, Floydada; Lyntegar Electric Cooperative, Tahoka; Bailey County Electric Cooperative, Muleshoe; Swisher Electric Cooperative, Tulia; Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Aledo; and Greenbelt Electric Cooperative, Wellington.

Mahannah said the job will not be completed with the restoration of power. Teams from North Plains Electric will clean up all the burned materials and inspect in the neighborhood of 12,000 poles in the footprint of the fire.

“There are many poles that are standing strong but may be burned enough to require further inspection,” he said.

Steven Johnson is a contributing writer for NRECA.