In the summer of 2000, a fire storm swept through 30,000 acres in the state of Washington, U.S., destroying much of the terrain. A portion of Benton County Pubic Utility District's (PUD) electric system was in the fire's path. Seventy wood utility poles caught fire and 27 of them were completely lost.

Benton County PUD realized the makeup of the terrain and summer weather conditions created an ideal environment for the spread of wildfires and posed a threat to the reliability of its system. Benton needed to be proactive in protecting its assets, finding a solution that could prevent fire damage to its transmission and distribution system. Benton County PUD looked into a fire-protective coating for wood poles called Fire-Guard, developed by Osmose. The water-based heavy-duty coating applied to the pole by brush or spray on application helps protect the pole in the fire conditions.

Benton County PUD identified a critical transmission circuit that spans 15 miles (24 km) with approximately 150 poles, which stood in a high-risk fire area surrounded by tall sage and dead brush. Benton treated the poles with Fire-Guard from the base of the pole up to 3 ft (1 m). In areas of dense brush, the poles were treated as high as 6 ft (2 m) for added protection.

Two weeks after the poles were treated, a train travelling through the area with a defective wheel caused sparks on the tracks, igniting the brush along the rail side. The brush fire burned a 3.5-mile (5.6-km) path. Approximately 35 poles treated with the Fire-Guard were in that path.

Benton County PUD staff commented, “We couldn't believe it, there was a zero-percent loss. Only one pole had minor damage. We estimated our upfront investment paid a conservative return of no less than US$50,000 in savings in the first two weeks. [There was] no crew overtime or lost crew time from pulling crews from other projects. Even more, the affected circuit serves nine substations and has several irrigation systems that serve farms throughout the area. The potential for what could have been unimaginable.”

Benton County has doubled its budget for Fire-Guard for the coming year.
Circle 177 on Reader Service Card