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Winds knock out power region wide


Last updated 9/10/2020 at 12:40pm

CHENEY – Almost 64,000 Inland Northwest residents were without power late Monday, Sept. 7, after a Canadian cold front whipped through the region bringing strong sustained winds and even stronger wind gusts — knocking down trees, branches and power lines and igniting a number of wildfires.

Cheney outages began about 9 a.m. with the report of a faulty switch at the city’s main substation on Cheney-Plaza Road. Light Department Director Steve Marxx said crews responded quickly and had power back up in about 30 minutes.

Then the winds hit hard, creating a second outage around 10:30 a.m. Marxx said crews thought it might be another faulty switch at the substation, but when they responded they made a key decision.

Under normal conditions, an interrupted switch at the Cheney-Plaza substation would attempt to recycle and restart up to three times. But fearing such a restart with under the increasingly stormy conditions would create other problems, Marxx said crews put it on a “one shot” setting.

“Which means if the power is interrupted, it just stays off,” he added.

That left Cheney in the dark for most of the day, but allowed crews to more effectively respond to 16 major incidents in the city: five reports of power lines down, six of downed trees lying on power lines and five trees had fallen onto secondary lines leading from residents’ homes. Crews also replaced a power break that occurred at the Maverik station at 1st Street and Betz Road.

The damage disrupted power to roughly 1,200 – 1,500 meters in the city — impacting approximately 3,000 – 4,000 people, mostly in the central and southern portion of Cheney. Power was eventually restored by early evening by design, once the winds began to die down.

“The afternoon was a willful shut down, caused in part because we had a tree in the line in the west end (of Cheney),” Marxx said. “If that had energized, it could’ve caused a fire. We think for certain, it (one-shot setting) prevented two fires.”

Marxx said all five of the department’s linemen were on the job from 9 a.m. to about midnight, with two more getting called out around 3 a.m. on other outage reports.

Regionally, Avista Utilities reported more than 36,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm. In a news release, the utility said it had deployed all of its crews along with 19 contract and 13 vegetation management crews in Washington and Idaho, and as of Tuesday morning, had restored power to approximately 72 % customers them, leaving 10,000 still in the dark.

Avista said it expected the rest to have power restored by late Tuesday evening. Like Cheney, the storm mainly damaged transmission and distribution lines.

“Because of the dry weather conditions, restoration is taking longer in some cases as crews cautiously and physically patrol the lines before re-energizing,” utility officials said in the release. “In normal weather conditions, these lines would automatically re-energize when experiencing a fault.”

Inland Power and Light crews were in the same situation.

The utility — whose headquarters are on the West Plains near the Interstate 90/Medical Lake interchange — reported over 14,000 of their 42,624 total customers without power late Monday evening.

By Tuesday afternoon, Inland reported 7,312 still without power, 5,078 in Spokane County and 2,251 on the West Plains. In the Cheney/Spangle area, the outage was “primarily caused by Avista transmission outage,” with crews onsite assessing damage and looking to re-energize that line late Tuesday afternoon.

Inland Power will continue to provide specific updates on outages via our outage map and social media as we are able to assess the situation, but with the widespread damage throughout our service territory and continued inability to access our lines due to fire our members should be prepared for prolonged outages ranging into Wednesday or Thursday,” the company said on its website.

John McCallum can be reached at


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