In an effort to lessen the risk of wildfires in extremely dry and hot conditions, local utilities in Oregon have made intentional power outages on Friday that could affect tens of thousands of customers prompted by the threat of high winds.
Already common in California due to wildfire fears and power outage concerns, power shut-offs due to extreme fire weather are relatively new to the Pacific Northwest.
According to Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University, the climate change that is bringing drier conditions to the Pacific Northwest now requires strategies that used to be common only in fire-prone California for the past decade or more.
According to OregonLive.com, utility companies use a “Public Safety Power Shutoff” when conditions, such as high wind, are forecast in areas with increased wildfire risk to help decrease the possibility that downed power lines could start or worsen a wildfire.
During the shutoffs, utility companies are keeping in touch with affected customers via email, text, and social media, and through the companies’ websites.
Cedar Creek Fire spokesman Bud Sexton noted that the Cedar Creek Fire in central Oregon was of particular concern Friday when the east winds pushed the fire west creating very difficult fire conditions.
As winds of up to 60 mph hit some areas and temperatures hovered in the high 80s and low 90s, more than 40,000 customers, including in Portland’s posh West Hills neighborhood, lost power by late Friday in planned shutoffs.
Authorities also urged residents in the affected areas to charge cell phones and be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice while schools canceled classes.
After shutting down power to 5,000 customers in 2020 near Mount Hood during firestorms that ravaged the state, this was only the second ever proactive power shutoff for Portland General Electric.