PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After the 2020 Santiam Canyon wildfires nearly destroyed the town of Gates two years ago, local residents are preparing to lose power on Friday due to high winds and extreme weather.
Multiple Gates residents told KOIN 6 News that they feel this is all too little, too late, but Pacific Power says these shutoffs, while inconvenient, are about avoiding another wildfire-related tragedy from striking communities in the Santiam Canyon.
“This is really a public safety measure we’re taking to de-energize our lines to prevent a wildfire from happening,” said Drew Hanson with Pacific Power.
Amid the high winds and hot temperatures predicted Friday and Saturday, Pacific Power says they’ve now notified 12,500 customers who are slated to lose power during their public safety shutoffs.
Pacific Power estimates areas in Douglas, Linn and Marion Counties will begin to lose power starting at 6 a.m. Friday, with more shutoffs slated around 4 p.m. Additionally, parts of Lincoln, Tillamook and Polk Counties could start to see shutoffs at 10 a.m.
The power outage is also impacting the classroom, with Oregon Trail, Silver Falls, Sweet Home, and Santiam Canyon School Districts all announcing closures Friday.
“It’s really the element of last resort. When we know that there is going to be a combination of frankly dangerous wildfire conditions, is when we make the decision to cut off power. And what we’re going to be seeing over the next 48 hours is that combination,” Hanson said.
Fueled by high winds the 2020 Santiam Canyon wildfires burned through more than 200,000 acres, killing at least five people.
Two families who lost four loved ones in the blaze later filed a lawsuit against Pacific Corp. in 2021, accusing the company of failing to turn off power in the area, despite forecasts of a dangerous windstorm.
One of those families was the Tofte family, descendants of the founders of Enchanted Forest.
“I think that Pacific Power has learned from the past fires and is making adjustments based on what they have learned. Hopefully, those decisions will keep us from the tragedies we experienced two years ago,” said a spokesperson for Enchanted Forest.
While there is no official restoration time, Pacific Power is urging customers who live in the impacted areas to make sure their contact information is up to date so they can receive the most recent updates.
The power company is also setting up community resource centers for those without power.