Cleanup ‘an all-city effort’; earlier tree-trimming may have lessened power outages
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Strong winds turned Wednesday into a long night for Ashland Electric and Public Works department workers, with power restoration and cleanup efforts that continued well into Thursday afternoon.
Upwards of 30 trees were uprooted by at least 42 mph winds, and many wreaked havoc where they fell in various sections of town. Wind damage included blowing a window off the front of Safeway to bringing down a tree across Winburn Way, directly across from the pickleball courts in Lithia Park.
One tree in particular on Tudor Circle in Ashland hit a pole with a transformer around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, said Tom McBartlett, director of the Ashland municipal electric utility since 2015, and broke equipment loose, sparking fire on some bushes at the base of the pole.
“The (electric) crew was just pulling up as it happened and we emptied all of our fire extinguishers and got ahold of a hose from one of the nearby houses and called 911 and the fire department was there within minutes and put the rest of it out,” McBartlett said. “It was pretty good timing when the crew showed up, it could’ve probably been worse had they been a few minutes later.”
Electric workers responded to restore power from noon on Wednesday to as late as 2 a.m. Thursday, McBartlett said.
Workers from Ashland Parks & Recreation used chainsaws to clear debris near the Japanese Garden, where a tree fell nearby but didn’t damage the new garden. A worker could be seen up in the trees removing branches as well.
Down below, Rick Landt, chair of the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) rode his bike by the garden on Thursday on his way to attend an event.
“Our parks staff notified the Commission,” Landt said, of hearing about the fallen trees in Lithia Park. “I wanted to see for myself,” he added.
Landt admitted he was relieved to hear the tree hadn’t fallen in the new garden.
He said it may take longer for some of the outer city parks, such as Glenwood Park, to be addressed.
The response to the storm’s impact was what McBartlett called an “all-city effort.”
Morrison said he brought in all of his Public Works team to help out.
“We had everybody that was available from our street crew come in,” Morrison said. “Our priorities are keeping the streets open when we can and trees were falling into the streets and sidewalks. We were moving them where we safely could.”
Trees fell in a lot of different areas around town, including on Oak and Walnut streets, Morrison said.
“In the time I’ve been here, it’s happened at least three or four times,” Morrison said, of similar windstorms.
McBartlett said it was mainly big trees that were uprooted from the storm, aided by the moisture in the ground.
“Most of them were quite a ways away from our line, really, but they were tall enough that, when they fell, they fell on our (power) lines,” he said.
Proactive vegetation management measures taken following the Almeda Fire in 2020 may have kept a worse scenario from playing out, according to McBartlett.
“The last couple years we’ve been really aggressive on our vegetation management and tree trimming around our lines,” he said. “Everybody on the crew and in the department were talking about how much worse this could’ve been.”
McBartlett said the trees that hit the city’s power lines weren’t trees that the city needed to trim.
“If we hadn’t been as aggressive as we had been the last couple years … there’d still be people (with their power) out, I know it,” he said.
McBartlett said the winds on Wednesday — which in some places were more than 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service — reminded him of the winds on Sept. 8, 2020, the day of the Almeda Fire.
“I remember coming in that morning (Sept. 8, 2020) and it (the wind) was pushing my truck around the same as it was (Wednesday),” he said.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.