PORTLAND, Ore. — Utility companies Portland General Electric and Pacific Power began implementing public safety power shutoffs Friday for areas of multiple western Oregon counties due to the threat of high winds and extreme wildfire conditions. The shutoffs are expected to last through at least Saturday.
Pacific Power sent a notice earlier this week to roughly 12,500 customers between Linn, Douglas, Lincoln, Tillamook, Marion and Polk counties. The power shutoffs started before noon Friday and as of Friday night, the shutoffs had impacted more than 10,000 utility customers around Otis, the Santiam Canyon and east of Sweet Home.
PGE's power shutoffs have impacted even more people, an estimated 37,000 customers in high-risk areas across the state, including in the hills of northwest Portland. Earlier this week, before starting the shutoffs, the company said it intended to provide up to four hours' notice before shutting off power.
On Saturday morning, PGE said in a news release that it had turned off power in limited portions of five new areas, including parts of Southwest Scotts Mills, South Molalla, George, Colton and Sandy.
A smaller utility in the region, Consumers Power Inc., likewise announced that it could initiate power shutoffs in parts of its service territory "as a last resort." CPI's potential power shutoffs are most likely to occur around Sweet Home, Stayton, Scio, Lyons, Elkhorn, Detroit, Idanha and Marion Forks.
Pacific Power customers can view a map of areas impacted by public safety power shutoffs here
PGE customers can view a map of areas impacted by public safety power shutoffs here
CPI customers can view a map of areas impacted by public safety power shutoffs here
"Our advanced weather modeling is indicating a potential for dangerous fire weather conditions," said Steve Vanderburg, meteorology manager for Pacific Power, earlier this week. "We’re gaining an understanding of the impacts to our system this specific weather event could bring, and have issued Public Safety Power Shutoff notices to several Pacific Power communities."
Pacific Power's shutoff applies to areas of Stayton east through the Santiam Canyon, Lebanon, Sweet Home, Lincoln City and Glide east along Umpqua Highway. The company provided a tentative plan about when and where these shutoffs could happen:
- Douglas County: 6 a.m. Friday, from Toketee Falls east to Diamond Lake, with additional areas added around 4 p.m.
- Linn County: 6 a.m. Friday, Sweet Home east along Highway 20, with additional areas added around 4 p.m.
- Marion County: 6 a.m. Friday, Lyons east along Highway 22, with additional areas added around 4 p.m.
- Lincoln County: 10 a.m. Friday
- Tillamook County: 10 a.m. Friday
- Polk County: 10 a.m. Friday
Pacific Power said the duration and extent of these power shutoffs may vary.
Areas impacted by PGE's potential shutoffs are predominantly on the outskirts of the Portland metro area, namely in rural areas, though some of the shutoff areas expanded Saturday.
Earlier this week, the company provided the following specifics about when and where these shutoffs could happen, though "it might be sooner if conditions warrant":
- Mt. Hood Corridor and Foothills: 3 a.m-6 a.m. Friday
- Columbia River Gorge: 5 a.m.-8 a.m. Friday
- Oregon City: 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Friday
- Estacada: 3 a.m.-6 a.m. Friday
- Scotts Mills: 5 a.m.-8 a.m. Friday
- Portland West Hills, Tualatin Mountains, Northwest Hills and Central West Hills: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday
- Southern West Hills: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday
In Saturday morning's news release, PGE said it had turned off power in limited portions of five new areas, including parts of Southwest Scotts Mills, South Molalla, George, Colton and Sandy.
"Unless conditions change and assuming no damage to PGE’s system, power restoration could begin as early as [Saturday] evening," PGE said in Saturday morning's release.
PGE said damage to its equipment or system could delay efforts to restore power and it will provide updates "at least every 24 hours" until power is fully restored.
Public safety power shutoffs in areas at high risk of extreme wildfire conditions have been increasingly adopted as a means of reducing these risks. PGE and Pacific Power have each used them in the past, but they were not employed widely enough during the 2020 event to address all areas impacted by extreme wildfire conditions.
Lawsuits filed against Pacific Power have accused the company of starting or contributing to the devastating Oregon wildfires in September 2020 when their equipment failed during that historic wind event.
Help for people during shutoffs
PGE is placing mobile resource units in areas impacted by power outages. Residents who lose power can visit the trailers to charge their phones and laptops, use the bathroom and to pick up ice and water. They're slated to remain open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday:
- Welches Elementary School, 24901 E Salmon River Rd, Welches
- Estacada Baptist Church, 29101 SE Eagle Creek Rd, Estacada
- Silverton Safeway, 301 Westfield St, Silverton
- Banks Jim’s Thriftway, 12350 NW Main St, Banks
- Sheridan High School, 433 S Bridge St., Sheridan
- Firwood Elementary School, 42900 SE Trubel Rd, Sandy
"I'm actually really excited that there's some preemptive stuff happening compared to two years ago when it kind of hit us by surprise," said Patrick Schrader, assistant principal at Sheridan High School. On Thursday, Schrader helped PGE crews as they parked a mobile resource unit at Sheridan High School. "We love that our school is a community resource for people and they know where it's at."
Pacific Power said it has established several temporary community resource centers so that people impacted by power shutoffs can charge their devices, stay cool and access other amenities. They're slated to remain open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday unless service is restored earlier:
- Douglas County: Glide High School, 18990 N Umpqua Highway, Glide, Ore. 97443
- Marion County: Bethel Baptist Church, 645 Cleveland Street, Aumsville, Ore. 97325
- Linn County: Sankey Park, 877 14th Avenue, Sweet Home, Ore. 97386
The Corbett Fire Department and Multnomah County Emergency Management have opened a station where people can charge their devices at the Corbett Fire Station. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It may open on Sunday and Monday. The station will have ice, water and space where people can charge their phones.
- Corbett Fire Station: 36930 East Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett, Ore.
Several Oregon school districts canceled Friday classes due to the power shutoffs.
The Sweet Home, Silver Falls, Santiam Canyon, Gaston and Corbett school districts announced there would be no school. Portland Public Schools closed Skyline and East Sylvan, both on the west side of Portland. And on Thursday night, Oregon Trail School District in Clackamas County also announced it would be closed due to the power shutoffs.
"School is important for us, but our kids and families and their safety is paramount," said Todd Miller, superintendent of the Santiam Canyon School District.
Students just started their first week of classes this week in the Santiam Canyon School District.
"I don't like canceling school, especially the first week, but there are too many safety factors that play into this decision," said Miller in an email to parents. "First off, this event may be traumatizing for many who went through this two years ago and you want to hunker down with family. Also, the possibility of no power makes it difficult to see in dark classrooms and restrooms, prepare meals for students and most importantly, we can lose communication services which is a safety risk. Also, the high winds could pose safety risks for students needing to walk home or make roads unsafe for travel."
The utility companies cited a forecast that includes extremely low humidity, dry vegetation, elevated levels on key weather indexes and expected sustained winds.
"Strong east winds will develop across western Oregon Friday and last into Saturday," said KGW Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino earlier this week. "There are similarities to the 2020 event, but the winds this time won’t be quite as strong, and won’t last as long as the devastating east winds of September 2020. That said, the winds don’t have to be that strong to create extreme fire conditions, which we will have Friday into Saturday."
On Saturday morning, KGW meteorologist Chris McGinness said the east winds are expected to begin to subside Saturday afternoon and end by Saturday night.
RELATED: Latest weather forecast from KGW
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said Thursday that smoke impacts could be greater in some areas than the risk of wildfires.
As fires burned across the state Friday night, much of Oregon woke to hazy skies Saturday morning. That was mostly a product of the Cedar Creek Fire burning in central Oregon. East winds shifted the direction of the fire's smoke plume northwest, pushing smoke into northwest Oregon and southwest Washington.
People who are susceptible to smoke should try to stay inside and limit outdoor activities, Phelps said.
"As with every fire season, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect you, your homes, and the places we all cherish and love," said Gov. Kate Brown during a Thursday press briefing. "That said, there are actions each of us can take to assist our firefighters in their response efforts. Being prepared is paramount — I encourage all Oregonians to make an emergency plan with your families today. And, please, check on friends and family who may be vulnerable or medically fragile to ensure their needs are addressed."