Roman Gillen is the CEO of Consumers Power Inc., a 23,000-meter distribution cooperative based in Philomath, Oregon. The co-op’s territory has seen devastation from the region’s ongoing Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires, which have torched nearly 400,000 acres and destroyed or damaged some 850 homes.
After touring the region and the ongoing restoration work this week, he wrote an emotional email Thursday to the CPI board detailing what he’d witnessed and the heroic work of the line crews.
Below is that note in its entirety.
Power is restored to Detroit, Idanha, and Marion Forks as of 7:30 last night. This is nothing short of a miracle performed by our own crews combined with those of Midstate Electric Co-op, Oregon Trail Electric Co-op, Hood River Electric Co-op, and Salem Electric Co-op.
I spent the day yesterday in the area with Billy Terry, visiting crews, contractors, support personnel, emergency responders, etc. The damage is unspeakable. A lot of the area is just smoking ruins. I know you’ve seen it with your own eyes from pictures. Being in the middle of it takes it to a whole different level. Small flames were still licking the hillside as we passed Detroit dam and the smoke was so thick that I couldn’t see the electric lines along the road as we came into town. Billy said that the air was much better, but I didn’t believe him, not really, although I know he was telling me the truth.
But I want to tell you what I really saw yesterday. I saw a brand new electric system—tall, straight poles with straight, properly sagged wire between them— and all of it sprang up virtually overnight. I saw a lot of proud but tired faces that have spent days and many nights breathing that polluted air as they labored up incredibly steep, treacherous hillsides carrying their equipment and lugging the materials they need to work their magic and that worries me a great deal. Many of them have not seen their families for a couple of weeks, including some with newborn children and another who’s getting married this weekend, yet not one word of complaint has reached my desk, neither from our employees nor those who volunteered to help us. I marveled at how clean all of the linemen (and I mean all of them) looked in such a grimy environment. I heard expressions of gratitude from the emergency management people who live in the area for the organized, professional, cooperative, efficient, and effective process that the combined electric cooperative crews established as they worked quickly to restore power throughout the affected area. Just as important, not a single injury was sustained during this dangerous mission.
Special mention needs to be made of our contract tree crews and underground construction crews. Working with these folks for years really paid off in our time of great need. To a person, every employee poured their energy and skill into the restoration effort as if they were working for our members like our own employees, which of course they were. They did whatever we needed them to do and whatever we asked: pull wire, lug materials, run errands, etc. They were a critical part to the success of our mission and I am every bit as proud of them.
The work we have done this week clearly demonstrates the power of the cooperative network, and it is an amazing power that enables us to achieve the impossible. We have brought to the people of these fire ravaged areas a big, bright ray of hope. We are now busy getting ready to respond to dozens of requests (demands) for power as we and they face months and years of rebuilding. For now, everyone is looking forward to a much-deserved, long overdue reunion with their families, topping it off with a much-anticipated wedding. What a great end to a terrible but wonderful week.