Winds Neared 60 Miles per Hour in the Gorge After Oregon Electrical Utilities Shut Off Power Lines

Power is back for all Portland General Electric customers, including in Portland’s West Hills.

Portland General Electric has fully restored power to the city’s West Hills, along with 90% of the 32,000 customers who saw their electrical service disconnected in order to prevent fires if high winds toppled transformers and power lines into dry brush.

PacifiCorp made the same decision for 12,000 of its electrical customers—a choice that reflects a new reality when Oregon’s east wind gusts during a fire season made more dangerous by climate change. Downed power lines sparked some of the worst devastation of 2020′s Labor Day wildfires, which burned through Santiam National Forest and consumed homes in and around the Cascades town of Detroit.

This weekend, by contrast, saw only scattered and small-scale wildfires in the regions where utilities shut off power, despite gusts that rivaled the 2020 windstorm.

The National Weather Service says wind gusts reached 56 miles per hour at Rooster Rock in the Columbia River Gorge just before 6 am Saturday. That’s nearly the same intensity of east wind that blew through the Gorge two years ago.

Wind gusts higher in the Cascades weren’t nearly as strong as the Labor Day storm: The highest wind speed at Hoodoo Butte was 60 miles an hour, while the same location saw 92 mph winds two years ago.

PGE and PacifiCorp haven’t yet said how many power poles were found toppled as crews worked to restore power after the shutoffs. That number will provide a better measure of how much danger was forestalled by shutting off electricity across the state.

The one noteworthy fire that did break out in the Portland area—a 25-acre blaze at Milo McIver State Park west of Estacada—is now sufficiently under control that Clackamas County authorities have lifted an evacuation order.

Meanwhile, the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Cedar Creek Fire in Lane County, has burned 89,000 acres and is entirely uncontrolled. The fire caused the evacuation of three towns, including the 3,300 population of Oakridge, and is the source of the yellow smoke that still hangs over Portland this evening.

Update, 12:15 am Monday, Sept. 12: Power is now restored for all PGE and PacifiCorp customers.

“PGE appreciates our customers’ patience as we prioritized the safety of people and communities where we work, live and serve,” said Larry Bekkedahl, a senior vice president at PGE, in a prepared statement. “This critical work was completed through close collaboration with community leaders and emergency responders.”