Light, fire crews kept busy after storm
800 Cheney Light customers lose power; fires limited in number, size
While some residents ran for cover last Wednesday afternoon in advance of, and during the damaging thunderstorm that raced across Spokane County, others found themselves right in the middle of it.
“We did have a number of trees come down,” Cheney Light Department director, Joe Noland said. Shortly after 4 p.m. just over 800 customers lost power, he said.
And because of other more pressing issues at the time, such as assisting various fire agencies who cut power so trees could be removed from utility lines, restoration of electricity took a little longer.
The process began with approximately 50 homes being back on line by 4:45 p.m. But then came the calls to de-energize lines to allow other emergency personnel to keep an already hectic situation from getting worse.
“We ended up having to go out to Fish Lake where two trees (across lines) started a fire so we were out there turning the power off for the firefighters,” Noland said.
Part of the crew was working on Feeder Line No. 7 which Noland said took a direct lightning strike. That darkened a portion of downtown Cheney as well as some adjacent residential areas.
“We had to drive every bit of it to find the lightning strike and confirm there wasn’t a tree in it,” Noland said. The 600 customers served by Feeder 7 had power by 6:25 p.m.
At Presnell’s Trailer Court there was a tree problem that needed both the light and fire department’s attention. That was handled by 9:30 p.m., Noland said.
The 85 customers in the Fish Lake area got their power restored at 7:45 p.m.
The final problem area was between North Third, North Fourth, Elm and Nolan Brown, Noland said where 65 customers were in the dark.
“We had everyone’s power on shortly before 11 p.m.” Noland said. “We were real busy for a while there.”
The trees this time of year are dry enough they’ll kick the line out which has the potential of a fire. “We want to make sure we don’t have a firestorm going, you know,” Noland said.
As for the suspected lightning strike on Feeder No. 7, Noland said they were not able to determine exactly where it happened.
“Our equipment at the substation tells us what sore of fault it was and how much magnitude and amperage,” Noland said. That still could have been a tree into the line but driving the length of the line and seeing no tree issues made lightning the only plausible culprit.
Because of the fire hazard, the line cannot just be re-energized without an inspection. “We need to make sure none of it is laying on the ground and is going to start a fire,” Noland said.
It took time he said, but it was all in the interest of safety and all Cheney customers were back with their power in just seven hours.
“This was the first major storm of the year that produced outages,” Noland said.
“We had Cheney Power on at least two of ours,” Fire District 3 Deputy Chief, Bill Dennstaedt said. FD 3 also worked on a few calls for Inland Power, but none for Avista.
The storm produced just one lightning strike in this area and a small fire in the vicinity of Harrison Street and Thorpe Road, Dennstaedt said. “It didn’t amount to anything, it was a green area and one truck took care of that.”
Other fires related to the storm were caused by downed power lines. “There were three, maybe four fires, all small, under a quarter-acre,” Dennstaedt said. The largest was 100 by 75 feet but most were 10 by 10.
“We got pretty lucky,” Dennstaedt said. “Compared to up north we were really unscathed.”
Elsewhere across the West Plains, other areas seemed to escape real damage, too.
“A couple of trees went down in the park, really of no consequence,” Scott Duncan, Medical Lake’s city maintenance supervisor said. “(We) lucked out, didn’t lose power. We got off pretty scott free.”
The Airway Heights Public Works Department reported a couple of branches down and a downed power line at 21st Avenue and Hayford Road.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Al Stover contributed to this story.