By Allan Brettman
Officials said Wednesday morning they are not sure what caused a fire in an underground utility vault that knocked out electricity to about 2,000 Pacific Power customers.
"I'm sure that will be coming along," Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said. "As (utility workers) did the repairs they collected forensic evidence. They'll be looking at that" to determine a cause.
The restoration for most customers began at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours earlier than projected. Most customers were restored by 8 p.m.
A 911 caller reported the fire at about 5:30 p.m. after flames were seen near Northwest Eighth Avenue and Couch Street, where the utility vault is located. In addition to electrical disruptions for businesses and residences within the affected area, the ensuing 24 hours or so saw disruptions to TriMet bus and MAX light rail service, traffic signals, land line telephone service. The affected area was roughly rom Broadway on the east to Interstate 405 on the west and from Southwest Jefferson Street north to Northwest Davis Street (two blocks north of West Burnside).
"Once we determined the extent of the damage to an underground transformer vault, we could restore service to customers not directly affected by the damage," Curt Mansfield, vice president of operations, said in a news release.
About 24 customers close to the damaged vault still await reconnection. Those customers have service wires that go directly to the damaged area, Gauntt said.
Because it was an electrical fire in an enclosed area, Portland Fire & Rescue could only wait for the fire to burn itself out on Monday, bureau spokesman Lt. Rich Chatman said. Dousing the flames with water is ruled out in such fire because water conducts electricity.
Chatman said the fire's cause is being investigated.
Nearly all of Pacific Power's Oregon customers are outside the Portland metropolitan area, where the Portland-based utility has 75,000 customers. The utility has 740,000 customers in Oregon, Washington and California.
Portland General Electric, which has nearly 850,000 customers, serves the bulk of the Portland metro area.
Pacific Power serves the area affected by the vault fire through an agreement between Pacific Power and PGE in the 1970s, Gauntt said. At that time, he said, the utilities swapped service areas in the Portland metro area to improve efficiency in service delivery.
Most affected by downtown Portland outage should have power again, Pacific
Updated on May 24, 2017 at 9:15 AM
By Jim Ryan
Reception center for displaced
Multnomah County has opened a reception center for anyone affected by Tuesday's fire and power outage.
The center, at the Mead Building, 421 S.W. 5th Ave., will be open until 9 p.m. County staff and the American Red Cross will help anyone with medications, transportation, mental health support, assistance applying for benefits or other needs.
Coffee, water and food will be provided, the county said.
Other resources the county provided:
- The Aging and Disability Resource Connection Helpline at 503-988-3646.
- If anyone is feeling overwhelmed, they can call the Mental Health Crisis Line at 800-716-9769
- Inquiries about the power outage should be directed to Pacific Power (888-221-7070).
Updated at 8:30 p.m.
Pacific Power said most customers affected by a fire-caused power outage in downtown Portland would have electricity again by 8 p.m. Tuesday — more than 24 hours after the outage began.
Officials shut down power for about 2,000 customers in a wide swath of downtown -- from apartment dwellers to some iconic businesses -- Monday evening. The outage was caused by a fire in an underground vault housing electrical equipment near Northwest Couch Street and Broadway, Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said.
Pacific Power said about two-dozen customers -- meters, not people -- near Couch Street and 8th Avenue will remain without power into Wednesday morning.
The outage has stretched from Broadway on the east to Interstate 405 on the west and from Southwest Jefferson Street north to Northwest Davis Street (two blocks north of West Burnside).
The Portland Bureau of Transportation in a news release Tuesday afternoon said travelers should expect delays and seek other routes to avoid the area.
The agency reminded motorists, bikers and pedestrians to treat dark signals as all-way stop signs.
Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St.; the Multnomah County Central Library, 801 S.W. 10th Ave.; and Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave., were closed Tuesday.
Some businesses in the affected area stayed open. They included the Target store at 939 S.W. Morrison St. and Regal Cinemas Fox Tower 10, 846 S.W. Park Ave., according to people who answered phones at the respective businesses.
The outage has affected the phone service for some businesses and government agencies outside the affected area. The University Club of Portland at 1225 S.W. 6th Ave. was without phone service for at least part of Tuesday but remained open. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman posted a tweet saying his office had no phone service but he encouraged people to send him email.
Gauntt said the fire's cause is unknown and that Portland Fire & Rescue extinguished the blaze. Someone called 911 about 5:30 p.m. Monday after flames were seen, he said.
For information on impacts to TriMet bus and MAX light rail service, check trimet.org/alerts. For information on power outages, contact Pacific Power.
— The Oregonian/OregonLive