Oregon utilities shut down power to tens of thousands of customers on Friday, officials hope to lessen the risk of wildfires amid strong winds and hot weather

PORTLAND, Oregon — On Friday, as dry easterly winds rushed into the region, Oregon utilities cut electricity to tens of thousands of customers in the expectation that this would reduce the risk of wildfires under conditions that were exceptionally dry and hot.

The practice of turning off the power because of dangerously dry weather, which is frequent in California, is still relatively new in the Pacific Northwest. The measures, which were included in the set of permanent guidelines that were authorized in May to manage the risk of wildfire in high-risk areas, represent the new reality in a region that is better renowned for its rain and temperate rainforests.

Pacific Power cut power to more than 7,000 customers in a small community on the Pacific Coast, where a wildfire burned two years ago, and in pockets southeast of Salem, the state capital of Oregon. Portland General Electric cut power to approximately 30,000 customers in 12 service areas, which included the posh West Hills neighborhood of Portland.

Schools located in areas that may see expected power outages have canceled lessons, and authorities have warned citizens to charge their telephones and be prepared to leave their homes at any moment.

The winds were fanning a wildfire that was burning southeast of Eugene, Oregon, that had been burning in the wilderness for a month but was now making a run toward the small community of Oakridge, where residents were ordered to evacuate. The fire had been burning for a month in the wilderness but was now making a run toward the community. Late in the day on Friday, Governor Kate Brown issued a state of emergency due to the Cedar Creek Fire, which was getting closer and closer to the town of 3,200 people.

According to Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University, climate change is bringing drier conditions to the Pacific Northwest, and this demands techniques that have been popular in fire-prone California for the previous decade or more.

She noted that the patterns of the winds have not altered, but that those winds are now more frequently occurring with drier vegetation and hotter temperatures. This creates a toxic mix that is conducive to the ignition, quick spread, and violent behavior of fires.

According to Fleishman, “I don’t know whether this is the solution, but it’s an interim effort to minimize the danger of wildfires.” “Everyone is reacting with, ‘Oh my gosh! The locations that we believed to be safe, they are now realizing that those areas are no longer resistant to fire. The risk of fire is shifting in a certain direction.”

Only two other times in the company’s history has Portland General Electric ever taken preventative measures to turn off the power. In the year 2020, the utility company disconnected power to 5,000 clients who lived near Mount Hood because of the devastating wildfires that were raging across the state. Wildfires caused by high winds over the Labor Day weekend were responsible for the loss of at least 11 lives, the destruction of 4,000 homes, and more than a million acres of land. Some of the fires’ ignition sources were attributed to utility companies.

Pacific Power, an additional significant utility in Oregon, stated that the power outages that occurred on Friday were the first time the firm has ever carried out such an operation. In 2018, the organization began implementing a strategy for the prevention of wildfires in the state of Oregon. As part of this strategy, wind and weather patterns are being analyzed to identify high-risk locations.

Residents of two towns that were destroyed by wildfires in 2020 filed a lawsuit against the utility company the year before, claiming that the firm should have turned off the electricity in advance of the catastrophic wind storm. The lawsuit was filed the year before.

According to Drew Hanson, a spokesman for Pacific Power, the company has since hired a group of meteorologists to make fire weather forecasts and is spending more than half a billion dollars to “harden” its electric grid in high-risk areas by replacing wooden poles with carbonized ones and encasing power lines and conductor boxes to reduce the likelihood of a spark. Both of these measures are intended to reduce the likelihood of a fire starting.

“You can look at the West in general, and climate change has impacted areas from Southern California, and then Northern California, and now up into this region as well, we’re seeing those same conditions,” he said. “You can look at Southern California, and then Northern California, and now up into this region as well.”

“It is something that we are taking into extremely serious consideration. We are aware of the rapidly shifting conditions. We’ve been shifting and developing alongside it as it’s happened.”

Multiple wildfires are currently raging across the states of Oregon and Washington.

A wildfire that started in grass and quickly expanded to stands of trees and portions of the Willamette Valley was being battled by firefighters using at least two planes and a helicopter just south of Salem. The smoke from the fire blanketed parts of the Willamette Valley.

The Double Creek Fire, which is now raging in northeastern Oregon close to the border with Idaho, is the most significant blaze in the state. Because of wind gusts that reached up to 50 miles per hour, the fire expanded by over 47 square miles on Wednesday. As of Friday, it has destroyed a total of nearly 214 square miles of land. Approximately one hundred homes in the vicinity of the town of Imnaha are at danger.

Nearly 52 square miles have been consumed by the Cedar Creek Fire, which is located in Central Oregon and is burning east of Oakridge. A level 3 “go immediately” evacuation was issued on Friday for residents of the greater Oakridge, Westfir, and High Prairie communities due to the heightened fire activity.

The Van Meter Fire began on Wednesday and is currently burning on Stukel Mountain, which is located around 20 kilometers southeast of Klamath Falls. According to the officials, one home and four other structures have been destroyed by the fire, and another 260 properties are under danger as a result of the blaze.

Additionally, in southwest Oregon was where the Rum Creek Fire was raging; it had burned approximately 33 square miles of land and was almost half contained.

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