On June 15th 2020, a lightning storm sparked the East Canyon Fire southeast of Mancos. Part of the 2,905 acres burned include an old coal mine and some of LPEA’s electrical infrastructure.
For three weeks in July, an LPEA crew worked with a helicopter contractor to replace the damaged equipment, including the power line feeding a 40-year-old cell tower. The crew had to re-set six poles and replace the wire, which under normal circumstances would be all in a day’s work for our lineman. But these were not normal circumstances.
“We had to dodge hot spots, dust, mud, rain, and lightning,” said Eddie Quintana, LPEA Journeyman Lineman. “Communication was challenging because of the incline, the rock was hard, and existing poles had to be re-set deeper with bigger poles.The crew dug the holes manually and set them with the help of the helicopter.”
The repair work was located near an old coal mine. Upon arrival, the crew discovered the wildfire was still smoldering – even a month later – thanks to the remaining coal. The hot and steep terrain had also eroded due to the fire, which required the team to pack generators and electric jackhammers to dig the 6’ holes needed to set the poles in hard rock.
“Helicopters aren’t new to line work, but their use is fairly new to LPEA,” Quintana said. “It saves time and effort and is a welcome change from our new management. We have a lot of remote line built prior to new standards and zoning,” he explains. “When the lines were set 40 years ago, they likely just bulldozed and set up ‘man camps’ to work on and establish lines on the hills. Those old lines were never upgraded and became grown in and grown over.”
Without a helicopter, Quintana says he’s not sure how the work would have been done. “You would have had to use mules to drag the poles in there. It’s the lightest footprint we can make. Helicopters can’t be beat for work in remote, mountainous areas and crews can’t match the speed of a helicopter, especially if it’s a well-organized job.”
He and the crew agree the job went smoothly thanks to the helicopter and good planning. The job was physically challenging and hot, but they found ways to stay in good spirits, including team lunches and ice cream after the job was completed.
Quintana said working on this job has been one of the highlights of his time with LPEA. “It’s exciting! Plenty of line on our system could benefit from heliwork.”