PG&E aerial patrol plane

One of the aircraft Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has used for its aerial smoke patrols is shown sitting outside a hanger in this 2015 file photo. Previously, the utility's spotters flew a route between Santa Maria and Santa Cruz. Now it stretches between Solvang and Vacaville. 

Contributed Photo, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Solvang marks the southern terminus for one of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s daily aerial smoke detection patrols the utility extended two weeks as high fire danger persists in portions of its service area.

PG&E launched this year’s patrols in June to assist the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and other local fire protection agencies with early wildfire detection and response during the highest-risk months, a utility spokesman said.

PG&E’s fixed-wing aircraft patrols were extended along two routes through areas that haven’t received significant rainfall — one between Solvang and Vacaville, the other in the central Sierra Nevada — but they’re scheduled to end this week.

The company flies a total of four routes from 3 p.m. to dusk daily and contributed funds to a fifth route flown by Mendocino County. All flights were previously scheduled to conclude Oct. 31.

This is the fourth year of the program, and from mid-June through Oct. 31, the patrols logged nearly 3,350 hours of flight time, spotted a total of 218 fires and were the first to report 21 of those fires. In 2017, nearly 3,350 hours of flight time have been recorded through October.

In addition to the aerial smoke patrols, PG&E has increased foot and aerial patrols along power lines in areas at high risk for wildfire from the drought, bark beetle infestation and other environmental factors that have resulted in dead and dying trees.

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The U.S. Forest Service estimates that more than 100 million trees have died in California since 2010, and in 2016 PG&E removed approximately 236,000 dead or dying trees and by the end of 2017 expects to remove another 150,000 dead trees.

Homeowners can reduce fire risk by removing dead trees and properly maintaining healthy trees on their properties, the spokesman said.

This report was compiled by News Editor Mike Hodgson. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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