Oregon switches off power amid heavy winds and raging wildfire
Oregon utilities switched off electricity to tens of thousands of customers Friday as dry easterly winds blasted across the region to reduce wildfire risk.
Pacific Northwest power outages due to intense fire conditions are very new. Plans authorised in May to reduce wildfire threat in high-risk areas indicate a new reality in a region known for its rain and temperate rainforests.
Portland General Electric cut power to 30,000 customers in 12 service areas, including the upscale West Hills suburb of Portland. Pacific Power cut power to more than 7,000 customers in a small Pacific Coast village where a wildfire occurred two years ago and in pockets southeast of Salem.
Schools in projected power outage zones cancelled lessons, and authorities warned residents to charge smartphones and be ready to flee.
A wildfire southeast of Eugene, Oregon, that had been blazing for a month was approaching Oakridge, where residents were advised to evacuate. Gov. Kate Brown declared a fire emergency for the 3,200-person town late Friday.
Climate change is bringing drier conditions to the Pacific Northwest, which necessitates techniques used in fire-prone California for a decade or more, said Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University.
Wind patterns have not changed, but they are now occurring more often with drier vegetation and hotter temperatures, she said.
Fleishman said it is an interim effort to manage wildfire risk. “Oh my god! ‘Areas we believed were safe are not anymore. Changes in fire risk
The proactive power shutoffs were PGE’s second. 5,000 consumers near Mount Hood lost power in 2020 during firestorms. Extreme winds over Labor Day weekend caused wildfires that burned 1 million acres, destroyed 4,000 homes, and killed 11 people. Some of the fire starters were blamed on utilities.
Pacific Power, another Oregon utility, said Friday’s shutdowns were its first. The company’s wildfire mitigation approach in Oregon includes researching wind and weather trends to forecast high-risk locations.