A TDS inside look at California’s Detwiler Fire

One of the largest recent fires in California has been the Mariposa County Detwiler fire, located in TDS’ Hornitos Telephone area. Since it began on July 16, 2017, the blaze has destroyed 81,826 acres, 63 homes, 67 minor structures and one business. The fire is now 90% contained. A total of 4,914 firefighters were assigned to the fire, 343 fire engines were used, 114 crews, 19 helicopters, 52 dozers and 61 water tenders. The fire had come close to Yosemite National Park.

TDS Telecom was one of the cooperating agencies that helped manage the fire incident and also participated in community meetings.  TDS’ Randy Brunes, manager of Field Services in Idaho, Washington and California, was staying in the loop and providing updates to his staff, even though he lives in Idaho.

Rather than telling you what happened, we’ll let Randy do it—his messages to his team show just how challenging it is to deal with an incident like this. Hats off to everyone for all of their efforts!

Day One

Sunday, July 16, 3:56 p.m.

The fire started at 3:56 p.m. near Detwiler Road and Hunters Valley Road, about two miles east of Lake McClure, in Mariposa County. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Day Two

Monday, July 17, 9:39 a.m.
By Monday morning, the fire had spread to 7,100 acres and destroyed telephone facilities feeding Bear Valley remote and the Mt. Bullion exchange. These areas are going to be without telephone service for a couple of days. As of right now a FST (Field Service Technician) isn’t allowed into area as it is still an active burn.  Residents on Hunters Valley Road and all of Mt. Bullion Road are affected. Most of the customers on Hunters Valley Road have been evacuated. Contractors are being contacted to stand by to make repairs when we can gain access.

Day Three

Tuesday, July 18, 8:23 a.m.
News is not good. Fire doubled in size and access to area is still unavailable. It has spread deeper into our territory. Road closures have our technicians pretty much tied down and unable to get around to assess damage.  No ETA (estimated time available) on when service will be restored.

Day Five

Thursday, July 20, 9:33 a.m.

Our local team has been granted access to the Hunters Valley area to assess damages. We have several poles down with approximately a mile of cable in different areas on the ground and damaged. We have pedestals with repeaters on them that have been burned. We have contractors on site to begin repairs. We are continuing to assess damage in other areas as we move around. Right now we are focused on restoring service to the Bear Valley and Mt. Bullion DSAs (Digital Service Area). These are the two largest DSAs impacting the most customers. Resources are limited as is material. We are going to try and get services to these DSAs up by Wednesday.

As of Thursday night, the wildfire had burned 70,596 acres and destroyed 50 homes.

Day Six

Friday, July 21, 8:38 a.m.
Contractors are working to reconstruct damaged area. We have two FSTs directing the restoration. The contractors will be working through the weekend to continue restoration. Right now we are still hoping to have Bear Valley and Mt. Bullion on line by Wednesday, July 26. The fire keeps flaring up in our territory. FSTs and contractors are having a tough time gaining access to damaged areas. This is still an evacuation area so once they leave it’s a struggle to get back in.

Day Nine

Monday, July 24, 8:39 a.m.
Contractors got aerial work done in Hunters Valley last night. We are attempting to get spans up and going to Bear Valley this morning. Hopefully we will have Bear Valley and Hunters Valley restored today. Contractors are moving ahead to get aerial cable up on poles going to Mt. Bullion today. We are waiting on a shipment of cable that is supposed to be here tomorrow to finish up that job. If we can come up with a way to temporary restore service early we will, but most likely still Wednesday for Mt. Bullion to be restored. There will still be little side taps and individual drops that will need to be replaced.  Waiting for our chance to get out and survey those; we won’t know when those will be completed. 

Day Ten

Tuesday, July 25, 7:50 a.m.
Service to Hunters Valley and Bear Valley were restored yesterday late afternoon. Any new troubles should be kept separate now and be treated as an individual trouble. We are still working on getting Mt. Bullion restored so our focus will be directed towards that today. We hope to have service up and going by tomorrow. We are waiting on a cable shipment that is due to arrive today.

5:12 p.m.
We were able to get a couple of voice spans temped to Mt. Bullion remote. Customers right in Mt. Bullion and north of Mt. Ophir Road have dial tone and 911. Customers south of Mt. Ophir Road are still without service. Our cable shipment that was supposed to come in today didn’t make it. The local FST has made arrangements to meet the truck in Mt. Bullion between 9 and 10 a.m. to pick up cable. It will take the contractors a couple of hours to get cable placed on poles and cutover. This will have an effect on service in Mt. Bullion for a little while until permanently fixed. We hope to have everyone up and in service early tomorrow afternoon.

Day Eleven

Wednesday, July 26, 11:50 a.m.
Cable has arrived for Mt. Bullion aerial damage. Contractors have picked it up and will hopefully have it in the air by noon. They will start cutting it into service right away. This is going to cause issues for Mt. Bullion exchange during this cutover. Once this is complete we will be able to start calling out customers on master tickets to see if they are working. Any new troubles that come in, we will need to make customer aware that it may be a few days before we can get to them due to work load. We should be able to start working individual troubles tomorrow.

Day Thirteen

Friday, July 28, 8:32 a.m.
All of our DSAs have been restored to service as of yesterday morning. Any new troubles that come in should be considered isolated troubles and have their own ticket. We should still set the expectation that it may be a couple of days in order to get these fixed. We will get to them as quickly as we can. Thank you for all of your help through this situation. Please let the customers know that we appreciate their patience also.

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