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Transformer catches fire south of Scappoose

1,093 lose power briefly Monday morning


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER PEOPLE'S UTILITY DISTRICT - Workers from the Columbia River People's Utility District respond to a transformer fire just south of Scappoose on Monday, Dec. 22.A transformer atop a power pole just south of Scappoose caught on fire Monday morning, Dec. 22, causing more than 1,000 customers of the Columbia River People's Utility District to temporarily lose power, a PUD spokeswoman said.

Libby Calnon said a customer called to alert the PUD of the transformer fire next to the Custom Metal Fab, Inc. building at about 6:15 a.m. At that time, she said, no outages had been reported.

“Our service man responded to the scene, then called in additional linemen to help,” she wrote in an email Monday.

The work crews cut power to a feeder line from the Dutch Canyon substation at about 7:15 a.m., Calnon said. That feeder line serves some 1,093 customers, who lost power while the equipment was serviced, she explained.

The Scappoose Rural Fire District also responded to the transformer fire with one fire engine.

“The top was off of the transformer,” said Fire Chief Mike Greisen. “The oil inside the transformer was on fire.”

After the PUD workers de-energized the feeder line, Greisen said, firefighters used fire suppression foam to extinguish the flames. They departed the scene by 7:46 a.m., he said.

According to Calnon, the PUD crews restored power to all but one customer by 8:12 a.m.

She added, “Once they replaced the transformer, they restored power to the last customer at 9:40 AM.”

The transformer was valued at $1,200.

Calnon said the transformer appears to have failed due to age, although the cause of the fire itself is unknown. The transformer was originally acquired from Portland General Electric in 1984, she said.

“Transformers can last a really long time, so it's not that unusual to have a transformer of that age in our service area,” she said.

The incident came about a week and a half after a brief but fierce windstorm knocked out power to about 8,000 PUD customers Thursday, Dec. 11, according to Steve Hursh, the PUD's acting general manager. Calnon and Hursh described that storm as the most damaging single event in the PUD's history to utility poles, with 21 poles breaking and 10 transformers requiring replacement.

Calnon said her first thought when she heard about the transformer fire was that it could have been related to the windstorm.

“It's difficult to rule that out, but transformers do just fail over time,” she said. “It's possible that there may have been some damage to it during the windstorm. It's hard to know. … I think it's probably more likely in this case that it was a coincidence.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Scappoose's fire chief.

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