In order to avoid heavy winds from collapsing transformers and power lines into dry vegetation, Portland General Electric severed the electrical service of 32,000 customers, including the city’s West Hills, and 90% of them have since received power again.
For 12,000 of its electrical customers, PacifiCorp made the same choice. This choice reflects a new reality when Oregon’s east wind gusts during a fire season that is becoming more dangerous due to climate change. The Labor Day wildfires of 2020, which tore across the Santiam National Forest and destroyed homes in and around the Cascades hamlet of Detroit, were triggered by downed power lines and caused some of the worst destruction.
In contrast, this past weekend witnessed only sporadic, small-scale wildfires in the areas where utilities cut power, despite wind gusts comparable to the wind storm of 2020.
Just before 6 am on Saturday, the National Weather Service reports wind gusts of up to 56 miles per hour at Rooster Rock in the Columbia River Gorge. That east wind is almost as strong as the one that passed through the gorge two years ago.
Higher in the Cascades, wind gusts weren’t quite as intense as they were on Labor Day: the peak wind speed at Hoodoo Butte was 60 miles per hour, compared to 92 miles per hour two years ago at the same place.
How many electricity poles were discovered to collapse while personnel sought to restore power following the shutoffs? PGE and PacifiCorp have not yet disclosed this information. This figure will give a more accurate indication of the degree of danger that was averted thanks to the state-wide energy blackout.
A 25-acre fire in Milo McIver State Park west of Estacada, the only notable fire to occur in the Portland region, is now sufficiently under control that Clackamas County officials have lifted an evacuation order.
In the meantime, the Cedar Creek Fire in Lane County, which has burnt 89,000 acres, is the most devastating wildfire in the state and is completely out of control. Three towns, including the 3,300-person town of Oakridge, were evacuated as a result of the fire, which is also the cause of the yellow smoke that is still obscuring Portland this evening.
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