SELAH — The same electrical malfunction that jolted John Reichensperger from a nap Monday also knocked out power to the entire city, brought police to the streets to direct traffic through lightless intersections, sent food processing workers home by the hundreds and closed businesses throughout town.
“It woke me up,” said Reichensperger, who lives directly across the street from Selah’s only electrical substation. “It was loud. It was super loud. It was a scary feeling.”
Pacific Power officials confirmed birds damaged equipment at the substation, killing power to more than 6,100 customers and pretty much shutting down the entire city of 7,200, but couldn’t provide details about how the damage happened or how extensive it was. Crews began turning the lights back on in stages about 4:30 p.m.
Power was fully restored by about 6 p.m., but about an hour later, nearly 300 customers again lost power because one of the circuits blew again. Officials were working to restore those customers’ power.
Neighbors lost their toasters and televisions due to the short, Reichensperger said, as he watched hard-hatted men in cranes work on the circuitry across the street. Other neighbors reported seeing sparks and smoke careening from the facility, eerily quiet without its usual metallic hum.
Longtime residents don’t recall a power failure this large or long.
“We’ve have small outages but nothing major like this,” said Marge Garcia, a receptionist at the corporate headquarters of Tree Top, which sent 175 workers home for the day.
Neighboring fruit-processing facilities along North Wenas Road’s “fruit row” made similar moves.
Tree Top lost some apple juice, applesauce and dried fruit in its pipeline but had managed to just about finish a run when the power failed, said Gary Price, vice-president for operations, as employees left the office. The next shift had some clean-up work waiting for them, he said.
In addition, a hydraulic ramp trapped one delivery truck in a bay, said Sharon Miracle, the company’s communications director.
Marci Wyle, a Zirkle Fruit accounts payable employee, left work just before a rush of traffic clogged the roads, she said.
Meanwhile, many businesses closed their doors and restaurants that did try to stay open offered their customers only water.
“Now we’re kind of worrying about the ice cream,” said Storm Delvecchio, a barista at North Town Coffeehouse on First Street, as customers waited in the dark.
The city avoided any public safety emergencies because of the power failure, city officials said.
The Selah Convalescent Home considered transferring patients to a new location, said fire Chief Jerry Davis, but decided against it late afternoon when Pacific Power began bringing the grid back online in stages.
The nursing home did, however, order extra oxygen tanks and rely on a backup generator.
“We can handle a little power outage,” said Annie Penner, a registered nurse.
The city called in off-duty police officers to direct traffic through the main intersections, while public works crews placed temporary stop signs at others.
Only one fender bender, which did not cause an injury, was reported, said Officer Jerald Smith.
“Thank goodness people are driving cautiously,” he said.
Mayor John Gawlik said the city has overtime money budgeted for emergencies such as this but had not tabulated the cost Monday.
“I’m just glad we were able to have the incident addressed,” he said.
• Ross Courtney can be reached at 509-930-8798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.