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Falling trees cut power for thousands in county

Pretty much all of it caused by ice, snow

It was a rough way for the first official day of winter to begin. At 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21, the power went out for a large part of western Klickitat County, and it was not restored for most customers until approximately 3:30 p.m.

According to the Klickitat Public Utility District, the outages were caused by snow- and ice-covered trees falling and breaking power lines.

"Pretty much all of it was due to ice in the trees, which made the trees come down on the line," explained Ron Ihrig, operations manager for the PUD. "The trees just couldn't deal with the weight of the snow and ice."

When the outage was at its peak, approximately 2,900 customers were without power in the west end of the county.

Communities around White Salmon and Bingen were also out of juice, and in some of those outlying areas, customers went nearly two days without electricity.

According to Ihrig, the final customers did not get their power back until 2 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 23. Those residents were on Cook Road in the Snowden area.

Ihrig said the PUD temporarily obtained its power from Condit Dam, a hydro-electric facility on the White Salmon River owned by PacifiCorp, a Portland utility.

The main outage was caused by the downing of a Pacific Power & Light feeder line near Columbia High School in White Salmon.

"The Bingen substation went down because one of PP&L's lines was on the ground," explained Ihrig, who added that PP&L employees repaired that line.

As a result of the troubles, all of White Salmon and Bingen were without electricity for most of Wednesday. That meant last-minute Christmas shoppers were out of luck.

Cheryl Anton, who works for Antiques & Oddities in Bingen, said the timing could hardly have been worse.

"It was a horrible time. It should have been a big retail day," Anton said. "I think it had a major effect on everybody."

Anton said downtown Bingen was very quiet.

"Knowing the power was out, people left this side and just went over to the Oregon side," she said. "If they had shopping to do, they just went right across the river."

Anton said the Antiques & Oddities staff stayed until about 1 p.m., trying to take care of some office tasks and hoping the lights would come back on.

"We kept the coffee shop open until about 10 a.m., using up the coffee we'd made earlier," she explained. "At one o'clock, we just called it a day. It was too cold and too dark to work."

White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen, who owns the Inn of the White Salmon, said the outage had a big impact on his business as well.

"The phones couldn't ring. It's an electronic system, and when the electricity is off, the phones are off. Everybody was really bored," Holen said. "The minute the power was restored, the phones went ringing off the hook."

Holen's business, along with the others in town, simply had to cope with the lack of electricity.

"Our guests had breakfast by candlelight," Holen explained. "It was just fruit, juice, and pastries. We had a gas range to heat up water for coffee."

The power did not come back in the business districts of White Salmon and Bingen until nearly 3:30 p.m.

A spokesperson in the PUD office reported that there were 21 PUD employees in the field working to repair downed lines and restore the power.

Ihrig praised the line crews -- based out of White Salmon and Goldendale -- that worked overtime to get the power back on.

"They spent a lot of hours out there, and they did an excellent job," Ihrig said. "Some of them worked 36 hours continuously to fix the problems, and a lot of support staff worked the same hours."

The line repair work can be dangerous as well as frustrating, Ihrig pointed out.

"Sometimes they'd get a site fixed and move on to the next one, and trees would come down right through the same spot they'd just repaired," he said. "It was frustrating, and sometimes it gets to be a dangerous situation for the crews to be working with limbs and ice coming down."

Ihrig added that it's not unusual when winter weather conditions result in these types of outages.

"We see this every so often," Ihrig said. "Trees load up with snow. It's a tough situation when it gets to the point where trees can no longer hold the load, and green trees are coming down."

Ihrig encouraged people who lose power to call the PUD office.

"I compliment people for calling in and telling us," Ihrig said. "Once the power comes on, if some sections are still out, we don't necessarily know it unless someone calls to tell us."


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