Power restored after downtown Portland outage

Power was restored by 8 p.m. Tuesday

Crews work to repair a downtown Portland power outage caused by an underground fire, May 23, 2017 (KOIN)
Crews work to repair a downtown Portland power outage caused by an underground fire, May 23, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An underground electrical fire caused a power outage left more than 2,000 customers in downtown Portland and the Pearl District without electricity all day Tuesday.

The affected area covered much of the western part of downtown Portland, roughly from NW Davis St on the north to SW Jefferson St on the south; from I-405 on the west to SW Broadway on the east.

By 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Pacific Power had begun restoring power to downtown customers. The company said all customers had their power back by 8 p.m.

Around 6:15 p.m. Monday, PF&R crews responded to multiple reports of smoke from underground grates in roadways of Northwest Portland, specifically the North Park Blocks.The fire was put out but the power outages continued to affect residents, businesses and traffic.

Before firefighters could effectively respond, the power company had to make sure electricity to the network was cut because firefighters will never use water on any kind of electric fire.

Water conducts electricity, Rich Chatman with PF&R said. The other big concern was the production of toxic smoke in the underground area.

Firefighters also had to make sure smoke wasn’t filling downtown commerical or residential buildings.

Chatman said there was another issue.

“The hardest part of fighting a fire in an electric vault, for us, is we don’t like to stand around and watch fires burn,” he said. “What we do is put fires out, so this was definitely a different scenario for us.”

Tom Gauntt, a spokesperson with Pacific Power tells KOIN 6 News they have never had a fire underground like this before. They hoped to have power restored by 9 p.m. Tuesday.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience,” Gauntt said. He added the cause of the fire is under investigation and that crews from PGE are helping Pacific Power restore service.

The agency is advising drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to be on the lookout for non-working traffic signals and street lights in the downtown area, and to treat all impacted intersections as all-way stops.

Pacific Power Outages
PGE Outages

Delays on TriMet MAX Blue and Red lines and Portland Streetcar

How the outage affected commerce

Several businesses in the Pearl District were closed, including the Starbucks and Powell’s Books at the intersection of NW 11th and Couch Street.

One delivery driver who spoke with KOIN 6 News saw several accidents before noon. He also said he was having trouble getting things done because no one was in their business to accept the deliveries.

Many restaurants and food carts were closed — and without refrigeration. Food was thrown away. A spokesperson for the Sentinel Hotel said they had to move their guests to other properties.

Multnomah County set up a reception center downtown for anyone who needed help coping with the fallout from the power outage.

“A few folks came in, said they had been sweating in their apartments all night and they were happy to have a place to come in, sit down and cool off and have some coffee,” said Jan Masotja with Multnomah County. “We were able to connect them with our ADRC to make sure they were getting all the services they needed.”

Charles Church, the owner of London Influence Salon, did open his doors for a while. But he said, “It’s just impossible. No hot water. No power, no phones, no computer. We’re done.”

Another business also tried to get some work done Tuesday, but whenever the power comes back on, they said they’ll have a one-day rippling in the scheduling and call-in orders.