Rolling Power Outages Are Planned around Portland as East Winds Kick Up

It's an effort to keep downed, live power lines from sparking wildfires.

By Julia Silverman September 9, 2022

Rolling power outages around Oregon this weekend are designed to stop downed power lines from sparking wildfires in windy conditions.

Portlanders may have woken up to clear blue skies and mild, late-summer breezes on Friday morning, but hot, dry conditions and forecasts for strong winds have the entire region on high alert for wildfiresand rolling power outages are already in place as a precautionary measure.

Power is currently off in communities around the Mount Hood foothills, in Estacada, around Silver Falls, and in the Columbia River Gorge all the way to Corbett, according to Portland General Electric. Outages later in the day are scheduled for Portland’s West Hills and the Tualatin mountains.

Elsewhere in the state, Pacific Power has announced that it has a number of communities on watch for potential shutdowns, including Douglas, Linn, Marion, Lincoln, Tillamook, and Polk Counties. Temporary shelters for those affected by the outages are opening in Douglas, Marion, and Linn Counties.

The goal of the outages is to make sure that downed power lines due to gusty conditions don’t spark damaging wildfires. That is how some of Oregon’s most destructive recent fires began, including at least 13 small fires that merged into the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire during a Labor Day weekend windstorm. That fire eventually burned almost 200,000 acres, leaving five people dead and homes destroyed in towns from Detroit to Gates to Mill City. 

But the National Weather Service’s Portland chapter says this year’s winds aren’t expected to approach those in 2020. Back then, wind gusts peaked at 60–80 miles per hour; this year, they are expected to top out at 35–60 miles per hour.

Unlike in years past, air quality around most of Oregon has remained relatively clear this summer, and is currently rated as "good" or "moderate" across the state, but the Department of Environmental Quality is warning that strong, gusty east winds could push smoke into the state’s northwest corner and the Portland metro area. Should smoke move in, the Red Cross advises staying indoors, avoiding lighting candles or gas stoves, and running a portable air cleaner to keep clean air inside.

There are currently nine active wildfires burning around Oregon, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which tracks fire activity in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, covering a total of about 168,000 acres. The Cedar Creek fire is among the largest of those, and is burning nearly 32,000 acres east of Oarkridge near Waldo Lake. It is only 12 percent contained.

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