Residents of California’s Napa and Yolo counties faced the first few days of July with evacuation orders as the result of a wildfire that eventually ended up consuming some 90,000 acres. The fire, which is now 100% contained and nearly out, was the largest fire burning in California at its peak. Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was an improperly installed electrified fence.
Electrified fencing is a very good tool for controlling cattle without having to resort to barbed wire. It is harmless to livestock, inexpensive to purchase and install, and relatively easy to maintain. But it is not perfect. Install electrified fencing incorrectly and it could lead to big problems. Napa and Yolo counties know that all too well.
A Timeline of the Fire
Fire investigators in California revealed that the wildfire known as the County Fire started in the Yolo County town of Guinda on June 30. The town is a rural agricultural town where electrified fencing is fairly common. Within a few hours of ignition, conditions made perfect by low humidity and moderate breezes quickly sent the flames heading south toward Napa County.
Cal Fire officials began issuing voluntary evacuation orders the following day, then replaced some of those voluntary orders with mandatory orders on July 2. Some 2,500 residents were eventually displaced. The fire eventually enveloped 90,000 acres covering a good portion of Yolo County and northern portions of Napa.
Fortunately, the weather improved and firefighters began getting the edge the following week. By July 11, the fire was 86% contained and all evacuation orders had been lifted. That was the same day that investigators revealed the cause of the blaze. According to an official Cal Fire press release, the guilty party has been cited under “Public Resources Code section 4421, burning of lands of another.”
Know What You’re Doing
Mytee Products, an Ohio company that sells electrified fencing supplies and energizers, says that electrified fencing is very safe when installed and used properly. It is low voltage by design so that it doesn’t injure cattle. But even a low voltage fence can be a problem. Mytee Products says that land owners need to be absolutely sure they know what they are doing before installing a new fence.
First and foremost, fencing configurations need to be designed according to the energizers being deployed. An improper configuration can overload and burn out an energizer in a worst-case scenario. Second, electrified fencing needs to be properly grounded. Grounding completes the electrical circuit and protects the energizer from damage. An improperly grounded system can cause fire-inducing sparks.
Mytee Products underscores the fact that electrified fence is a fully electric system as dangerous as any residential electric system that powers a house. Landowners unfamiliar with how electrified fencing works should either get proper training or hire a professional to handle installation.
Safety Always Comes First
Fortunately, there were no deaths or serious injuries as a result of the County Fire. There was property damage though, with at least three homes destroyed and dozens more damaged. Most frustrating to fire officials is that the County Fire is one that could have been prevented. They continually stress the need for a safety-first mentality relating to all activities with an inherent fire risk.
Hopefully the party responsible for starting the County Fire has learned his or her lesson. With a bit of luck others in the area will learn from the example as well. Electrified fencing is safe when installed and maintained properly. But as with all things electric, improper installation is an open invitation to disaster.