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Storm puts a freeze on LO

Emergency calls skyrocket as ice and snow grip city
by: VERN UYETAKE, 
Lake Oswego’s Ron Smith takes Zoey and Mac for a walk on Christmas Eve as the city is walloped by numerous Christmas storms.

Snow and ice caused unprecedented problems for the Lake Oswego Fire Department for two weeks.

'We had trouble just getting to one-third of Lake Oswego,' said Gert Zoutendijk, deputy fire marshal for the city of Lake Oswego. 'It wasn't impossible, but it definitely slowed us down.'

Not only were Lake Oswego firefighters faced with highly treacherous conditions, they also had to answer a remarkably high number of calls. Zoutendijk noted that between Sunday, Dec. 21, at 6 a.m. and Tuesday, Dec. 23, at 4 p.m., the LOFD ran 105 calls.

'We normally run 20 in that range of time,' Zoutendijk said. 'We were running back and forth from one call to another.'

Many of the problems were due to power lines falling on trees or trees falling on power lines, according to Zoutendijk. Sunday included a big power outage in the area of Lake Oswego High School, which affected Uplands Elementary School and Lake Oswego Junior High School, where fire panels had to be replaced.

Many emergency calls had to be made in neighborhoods that were badly iced over.

'Our vehicles were chained up, so our response was slower,' Zoutendijk said. 'On the deeper streets we had to leave our fire engines and walk up.'

However, the department was able to strategically place four-wheel vehicles, including a brush rig at the South Shore station, in order to avoid major problems.

'On Monday there was a house fire on South Shore, and we got there with the brush rig,' Zoutendijk said. 'We were able to get in there and contain the fire to a wall area.'

While firefighters found it difficult to get to emergency calls, businesses had extreme difficulty attracting customers under the miserable weather conditions.

'Most certainly the retailers felt it, there's no doubt about it,' said Jerry Wheeler, executive director of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce. 'Some businesses had to close and others had a lack of customers. The storms certainly had an economic impact.'

At the Oswego Lake Country Club, executive chef Jeff Hamilton said, 'We lost quite an amount of business. A lot of parties were canceled. Thirty percent of them were rescheduled, but the rest were lost.'

Hamilton said the country club was shut down on Dec. 20 and did not re-open until Dec. 26.

'Things are getting back to normal,' Hamilton said. 'People are starting to come back after being cooped up for so long.'

At Manzana Rotisserie Grill, a popular Lake Oswego restaurant, general manager Tim Becker said, 'The first week we were hampered quite a bit. We were closing early and sales were down quite a bit. The second week we were not affected at all.'

Instead of being busy on Christmas Eve, many retail businesses saw their customer count drop drastically.

'Our retail business was way down,' said Alice Seeger, owner of Upper Crust Bakery. 'Our wholesale business did very well because a lot of people were eating at home.

'We had less than 50 percent of the customers we had on last Christmas Eve. It is usually one of our two busiest days, along with Thanksgiving Eve.'

On Monday, Dec. 29, Seeger said, 'We were busy today, but it's hard to make up the business.'

As a native of Wisconsin, Seeger has seen a lot of ice and snow. But the big freeze of Lake Oswego was something unusual.

Seeger said, 'I've never before seen conditions here where you couldn't get out. A lot of my customers were stuck on the hills. I've never seen anything like it.

'Our business wasn't that horrible. At least we had a fallback position. But I don't see how businesses who do only retail could be shut down for so long.'

The big snowmelt began this past weekend, but Zoutendijk said the fire department is optimistic the city can avoid flooding problems.

'There's been some localized flooding, but for the most part the warm-up has been gradual,' Zoutendijk said. 'I don't foresee flooding being a huge problem.'