Portland, Ore. (AP) — Oregon utilities cut power to thousands of customers Friday as dry easterly winds swept through the area in hopes it would reduce the risk of wildfires in extremely dry and hot conditions.
Power outages due to extreme fire season, common in California, are relatively new to the Pacific Northwest. The plans, which form part of permanent regulations approved in May to manage the risk of wildfires in high-risk areas, mark the new reality in a region known for its rain and temperate rainforests.
Portland General Electric stopped power to about 30,000 customers in 12 service areas – including Portland’s posh West Hills neighborhood – and Pacific Power stopped service to more than 7,000 customers in a small community on the Pacific Coast where it was located two years ago. The forest fire was burning. , and in pockets southeast of Salem’s state capitol.
Schools in areas with planned power cuts canceled classes and officials urged residents to charge cellphones and be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Winds were fueling wildfires southeast of Eugene, Oregon, that had been burning in the forest for a month but were now racing toward the small community of Oakridge, where residents were ordered to evacuate. Governor Kate Brown declared a fire emergency late Friday for the Cedar Creek Fire as it engulfed the city of 3,200 people.
Erica Fleischman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University, said climate change is driving drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest and requires strategies that are common in California, hit by fires for the past decade or more. Huh.
Wind patterns haven’t changed, but those winds are now coinciding more often with drier vegetation and warmer temperatures — a toxic mix for fire ignition, rapid spread and extreme fire behavior, she said.
“I don’t know if this is the solution, but it is an interim effort to manage the risk of wildfires,” Fleischmann said. “People are going, ‘Oh my god!’ The areas we considered safe are realizing that they are no longer untouched by fire. The probability of fire is changing.”
The proactive power shutoff was just the second for Portland General Electric. The utility shut off power to 5,000 customers in 2020 near Mount Hood during a firestorm that wreaked havoc in the state. Extreme winds over Labor Day weekend sparked wildfires that burned more than 1 million acres (405,000 ha), destroyed 4,000 homes and killed at least 11 people – and some of them caught fire. The utilities were blamed for this.
Another major utility in Oregon, Pacific Power, said Friday the company shut down for the first time. The company created a wildfire mitigation plan in Oregon in 2018 that includes studying wind and weather patterns to predict high-risk areas.
The utility was sued last year by residents of two cities that were burned to ashes in the 2020 wildfires, who blamed the company for not turning off power before a devastating wind storm.
Pacific Power has since hired a team of meteorologists to forecast the fire season and its electric grid in high-risk areas by replacing wooden poles with carbonized ones and reducing power lines and conductor boxes. is spending more than $500 million to “harden” it. Pacific Power spokesman Drew Hanson said a spark is likely.
“You can look to the west in general and climate change has affected areas of Southern California, and then Northern California and now in this region as well, we’re seeing the same conditions,” he said.
“This is something we are taking very seriously. We feel the changing landscape. We are changing and evolving with it.”
Several fires are burning in Oregon and Washington state.
Just south of Salem, firefighters using at least two planes and a helicopter tried to douse the flames, which spread from grass to stands of trees, spreading smoke to parts of the Willamette Valley. Gone.
The largest in Oregon is the Double Creek Fire burning in northeastern Oregon near the Idaho border. Due to gusts of wind gusts up to 50 mph (80 kph), the fire grew about 47 square miles (122 square kilometers) on Wednesday and had burned a total of 214 square miles (554 square kilometers) as of Friday. It is threatening about 100 houses near the community of Imnaha.
In central Oregon, the Cedar Creek Fire has burned approximately 52 square miles (135 square kilometers) east of Oakridge. On Friday, officials ordered a level 3 “go now” evacuation for residents of the greater Oakridge, Westfire and High Prairie areas due to increased fire activity.
The Van Meter Fire, which began Wednesday, is burning about 13 miles (21 kilometers) southeast of Klamath Falls on Stukel Mountain. Officials said that a house and four structures have been destroyed and around 260 structures are in danger from that fire.
The Rum Creek Fire was also burning in southwest Oregon and covered about half of 33 square miles (82 square kilometers).
Associated Press reporter Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon contributed to this report.