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Homeowners looking to spruce up their home or yard reminded to call 811 before they dig | News

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us have been spending a lot more time at home. So as spring begins to heat up, many homeowners are expected to spruce things up, whether it involves grand plans for revamping a patio or even just planting a new tree.

That’s why local officials with utility companies and first responders are taking this moment in between the final chilly days of spring and the heat of summer to remind residents to call and check to see where any utility lines are before they do any kind of digging on their property. 

“When the weather starts warming up, people start going out and they start doing more out in their yards,” said Andrew Freeborn, public information officer for the Kern County Fire Department. “They start taking on more projects.”

And more of these projects, Freeborn said, unfortunately increases the likelihood of a “dig-in,” or an incident where an underground utility is hit, which can have dire consequences.

It can range from costly damage to injury, including death, according to PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen.

In 2020, there were 43 “dig-in” events in Kern County in which someone struck and damaged one of PG&E’s gas lines, according to Allen. There have been six so far this year. But local utility companies would like to avoid any more.

“We want you to call 811, so you don’t have to call 911,” said Rob Duchow, the spokesman for SoCalGas.

Freeborn said he has responded to incidents where someone was killed because of a dig-in. The department will respond quickly to any incidents, but he said the best strategy when dealing with utility lines is prevention.

Whether you’re a homeowner planting a bush or a contractor doing a more intensive project, state law requires you call 811 two business days ahead of time so utility companies can mark where active water, natural gas, electric and cable wires are running underground with flags and spray paint.

Representatives from local utility companies and first responders held a news conference Monday just outside Meadows Field to show what a marked-up, active construction site would look like after calling 811.

FedEx is moving its facilities near the airport, so there are yellow markings for gas, orange for telecommunications and red for electricity. There is also white where digging is planned and the pink is for the surveyors.

But calling 811 isn’t just for big projects. It can be for something as simple as putting in a new mailbox, laying down a new sprinkler system or gardening. Some utility lines run close to the surface, and they can shift over time because of root systems.

“Anytime a shovel goes into the ground — it doesn’t have to be a big earth mover, any time any equipment goes into the ground — you must call before the project starts,” Allen said.

The Common Ground Alliance, a national organization focused on safety issues around underground infrastructure, conducted a survey showing that one in five homeowners have been more likely to do a home improvement project involving digging since the pandemic began.

The most popular projects cited included planting a tree or shrub (62 percent), but some more ambitious respondents also said they planned to build a fence (37 percent) or a deck or patio (32 percent).

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