Phoenix Smoke Aftermath

Phoenix, Oregon, was burned by the Almeda Fire on Sept. 8.

Wildfires continued to rage in Washington and Oregon on Sept. 11, as utilities hustled to restore power to areas that had been shut off, where and when it was safe.

As of Sept. 11, more than 1 million acres have burned in Washington and Oregon. Many utilities had de-energized distribution and transmission lines to assist with firefighting efforts, and were waiting for conditions to change to begin restoration efforts.

Over 900,000 acres have burned in Oregon, and at times the cities of Salem, Eugene and Medford were under threat. Some communities east of Portland were under Level 1 evacuation orders, meaning that people should be prepared to leave, as of Sept. 11.

On Sept. 9, the Almeda Fire raced north from Ashland, destroying substantial portions of the small towns of Talent and Phoenix, which lie between Ashland and Medford.

On Sept. 11, the Oregon State Fire Marshal warned that two major fires—the Beachie Creek Fire and the Riverside Fire—were likely to merge. Together, they have burned 315,000 acres and forced evacuations in Clackamas and Marion counties.

Portland General Electric said in a filing with the Oregon Public Utility Commission that the Riverside Fire was directly threatening its Oak Grove hydroelectric powerhouse in Clackamas County, and was rapidly approaching its Faraday complex and control room.

PGE reported 215,000 customers without power at the height of the outages. As of Sept. 10, the utility still had 28,000 customers without power and had proactively de-energized power lines in eight different high-risk fire areas. Efforts included shutting off power in the Mount Hood corridor, along U.S. Highway 26, to help clear the way for responders to fight the Santiam Canyon, Riverside and other fires, according to the company's Twitter feed.

PGE said in a prepared statement that it received unconfirmed reports that heavy winds and debris might have damaged its electric equipment, which could have sparked a number of fires that helped contribute to those already burning.

The Santiam Fire, burning in Lane County, forced Lane Electric Cooperative and the Eugene Water and Electric Board to shut off power in certain places.

The co-op shut down all its substations the evening of Sept. 8, leaving its 13,000-plus customers around mostly rural Lane County without power through the night and into Sept. 9.

EWEB turned off substations on Sept. 7 that provide power to customers in the Thurston, Camp Creek, Walterville and Deerhorn areas. On Sept. 8, approximately 3,100 customers remained without power in EWEB's service area.

As of noon Sept. 11, Pacific Power reported approximately 12,500 customers without power, down from 60,000 earlier in the week. Working overnight, crews were able to restore approximately 10,000 customers in the Lincoln City area. Jackson County in Oregon and Siskiyou County in California had 9,652 customers still without power, with 1,880 customers in Lincoln County and 329 in Marion and Linn counties without power, the company said in a prepared statement.

Bonneville Power Administration spokesman Doug Johnson said Sept. 11 that BPA's system in the Salem and Eugene areas had been damaged.

"Basically, our power lines are damaged, and we are working with our utility customers to assess it," Johnson said. "As soon as we can get people safely in, we will. But we're making sure we aren't putting crews into harm's way."

Johnson said BPA was waiting to inspect lines in Okanogan County, Washington, that were also damaged.

Washington's two largest blazes were burning in Okanogan and Douglas counties, near the cities of Omak and Bridgeport. The largest, the Cold Springs Fire, has burned more than 187,000 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Nearly 500,000 acres in Washington had burned as of Sept. 10, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Douglas County Public Utility District had 2,200 customers without power on Sept. 7, but had returned power to all but 250 of its most rural customers by Sept. 11, spokesperson Meaghan Vibbert said.

At one point, a fire was burning under the three high-voltage transmission lines connecting to the Wells Dam hydroelectric project, but only one of the lines was damaged. That line was back in service by Sept. 11, Vibbert said.

At this point, the Oregon PUC has no information attributing any specific wildfire to any specific Oregon utility, OPUC Chair Megan Decker said in a prepared statement issued Sept. 11.

"As with every major fire, full investigations will deliver the facts that we need to determine root causes, including information about whether utility lines were a primary ignition source," she added. "Accurate, objectively determined facts are what we need to keep Oregonians safe from rapidly evolving fire threats in a changing climate."

Editor - Clearing Up

Steve began covering energy policy and resource development in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. He’s been editor of Clearing Up since 2003, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resource and University of Texas.