By Don Ford

WILLITS (KPIX) – A flying chainsaw may sound like something out of a horror movie, but it’s a welcome sight in wildfire country.

With eight tungsten carbide blades swirling underneath a helicopter, each nearly 3 feet in diameter, powered by their own self-contained engine, and assembled together, it’s called a Heli-Saw.

PG&E says, it’s the most efficient way to trim trees away from lines.

Brian Mulhollen is the Heli-Saw Field Safety Manager for the contractor in charge of this giant blade.

“In one day, we can do the work that a ground crew would take several weeks to do,” says Mulhollen.

Slicing branches up to 10 inches in diameter, the helicopter guides the Heli-Saw through trees that are too close to power lines, power lines that are still energized serving customers.

Tami Noel lives just down the street.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea! I mean, it goes through and replaces a lot of manpower very quickly and clears a good distance for the lines,” says Noel, and the noise doesn’t bother her at all.

“We have identified 2,455 miles of line that we need to trim. These are in high fire threat areas, tier 2, tier 3 areas that have elevated or extreme risk for wildfire,” says PG&E Spokesperson, Deanna Cotreas. “We use this Heli-saw right here to help trim, do all that trimming and pruning.”

There is still a small army of folks following underneath, using chippers, cleaning up all the brush.
“Trees and power lines are an unsafe combination. We want to keep those clearances all year round,” Cotreas adds.

PG&E will not use Heli-Saws in urban areas. Hand crews will still be used in cities.