• Seattle City Light power dam shut down after wildfire

    By: Essex Porter


    DIABLO, Wash. - Seattle City Light started evacuating employees Wednesday from the town of Diablo as the Goodell Creek fire approached the facilities at the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

    Power supply in Seattle will not be impacted. They will be buying power from other providers to fulfill customer needs.

    Visitors were also evacuated from the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake and at the Ross Lake Resort.

    The fire was burning on the north side of Highway 20 in Newhalem across from City Light’s Skagit administration building and east of the Gorge Powerhouse. Prevailing winds were pushing the fire east toward Diablo.

    Highway 20 between the utility-owned towns of Newhalem and Diablo was shut down by a fallen tree and numerous rocks loosened by the fire.

    >>If you are looking for information on the separate Chelan complex fire or Okanogan County complex fire, click here.

    >>MAP - Where fires are burning in Washington

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    No injuries have been reported. All City Light employees and their families are accounted for. Two employees did leave Newhalem earlier in the day after complaining of respiratory difficulties from the smoke.

    City Light was operating its three dams remotely, but the fire forced the utility to shut down the transmission lines that carry electricity from the hydroelectric project, according to a news release.

    Spillgates at all three dams were being opened to maintain river flows to protect fish. The inability to deliver electricity could cost the utility about $100,000 per day.

    Six City Light firefighters with two fire engines were working to protect people and property from the blaze. One crew was working with the National Park Service. The other was defending the Gorge Powerhouse.

    Skagit Tours scheduled for Thursday through Sunday have been canceled.

    >>PHOTOS: Fires wreak havoc on drought-choked Washington

    Shut down raises question of rate increase

    Seattle City Light will have to buy power from other utilities because a spreading wildfire forced it to shut down the transmission lines that carry electricity from the Skagit hydroelectric project near the town of Diablo.

    The utility estimates it will have to spend $100,000 a day to buy replacement power from other utilities.

    City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen says it is too early to tell if the additional expense will lead to a rate increase for customers.

    He says that despite the low snow pack and a dry spring, City Light was projected to get through the end of the calendar year without triggering an automatic 1.5 percent surcharge.

    Now that will depend, in part, on how long the fires keep the Skagit dams out of action.

    Thomsen says the project’s three dams supply 20 percent of Seattle’s electricity.


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