The Oregon Gulch fire that kept fire crews in the air and timberland on the Oregon-California border earlier this month took out 40 wooden Pacific Power transmission towers.
Although the 230-kilovolt and 69-kilovolt lines are part of looping lines connecting Oregon and California, Pacific Power spokesman Monte Mendenhall said no customers lost service when the utility company cut power after realizing the lightning-caused wildfire was headed that way.
It wasn't until after the fire torched the towers east of Copco Lake and moved on that Pacific Power was able determine how many were felled.
Mendenhall said the heavier line connected to the Rogue Valley at the Lone Pine substation in east Medford.
The wooden support structures predate Pacific Power's acquisition of California Oregon Power Co. in 1961, Mendenhall said. The majority of the destroyed towers were in California.
"I don't know if those lines have been damaged in year's past," he said. "I do know it's fairly unusual to lose this many structures in a single fire."
He said Pacific Power was able to transfer loads around the fire, but other fires could've entered the picture following a July 30 lightning storm that unleashed hundreds of strikes.
"Additional fires impacting our transmission lines could've compromised service," he said.
The fire 15 miles east of Ashland blackened more than 35,000 acres, but was 90 percent contained by the middle of last week and in mop-up mode.
"We work quite closely with the Forest Service," Mendenhall said. "We knew the first was in close proximity and we tried to anticipate the impact and modify our operations."
Although there are still fire crews mopping up in the area, Pacific Power crews last week were transporting materials to the site to begin reconstruction.
"It will be several weeks before we get everything replaced," he said. "It should be done well before winter, we don't anticipate any impact to our customers."
On a separate front, Mendenhall said Saturday's power outage that knocked power out for more than 2,600 south Medford customers, including Fred Meyer and Walmart, has been traced to a load tap changer at Pacific Power's Belnap Substation at the corner of South Pacific Highway and Garfield Street near Skinner Automotive.
"We'll be rerouting the power until work on the load tap changer is done Monday," Mendenhall said.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.