County deals with harsh weather, multiple fires over Christmas

The skyborne foulness isn’t done with residents just yet.

Inclement weather, power outages and fires plagued Grays Harbor County as residents celebrated the winter holidays, with an ice storm and subsequent heavy rain and strong winds moving through the area.

Heavy rain may cause further issues, said Aberdeen Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Swinheart

“There definitely is the possibility of local area flooding from the snowmelt,” Swinheart said in an interview Monday. “They’re forecasting a significant amount of rain later today into Tuesday.”

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The National Weather Service has issued both flood and high wind watches through late Tuesday or early Wednesday. County residents should be ready for more outages, following a spate of ice and wind related outages, said Ian Cope, communications and government relations director for the Grays Harbor Public Utility District.

“Over the weekend, we looked at some normal storm related outages,” Cope said in a phone interview. “We had some trees come down and damage some equipment.”

Storm damage during the ice storm took power down in Westport for a significant period of time late last week, Cope said. The icy road conditions slowed the response somewhat, Cope said.

“We had something down in Westport, we lost Ocean Shores for a good chunk of the day,” Cope said. “It was a little lengthier outage because of the conditions. Apart from that, it was run of the mill because we got icy branches that fell on the lines.”

Following attacks on power substations in Pierce County knocking out power to more than 10,000, Grays Harbor PUD is keeping an eye on its own facilities, Cope said, but hasn’t seen any strikes on local facilities yet.

“We’ve got security and our dispatchers keep an eye on what’s happening,” Cope said. “It’s concerning because someone’s going to get hurt.”

Courtesy photo / OSFD 
The Ocean Shores Fire Department, with assistance from Grays Harbor Fire District 7 and the Ocean Shores Police Department, tackled a number of serious structure fires over the holiday weekend.

Courtesy photo / OSFD The Ocean Shores Fire Department, with assistance from Grays Harbor Fire District 7 and the Ocean Shores Police Department, tackled a number of serious structure fires over the holiday weekend.

Multiple fires

Several residences also suffered structure fires over the weekend, from Aberdeen and Hoquiam to Westport to Ocean Shores.

Ocean Shores responded to three substantial structure fires over the weekend, said Ocean Shores Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Ritter.

“The first one was a detached garage. The big one on that was there was an exposure; there was a house very close to the garage,” Ritter said. “Total loss. (The fire) gutted it.”

No injuries were reported in that incident, Ritter said. The second major fire would be more involved, with a resident reported as unable to escape, Ritter said. Assistance from the Ocean Shores Police Department prevented it from becoming a larger tragedy.

“A report came in that there was a subject who wasn’t able to get out of the structure,” Ritter said. “(Police officers) were able to get the guy out to the front porch area. The fire department was able to get in and make a really quick knock. They were able to keep it in the room of origin.”

A third major weekend incident occurred when a neighbor reported a great deal of smoke coming from a house with no residents at home, Ritter said.

“That one was a little more dicey since there was only two firefighters available on the initial engine because the other two were transporting a patient to (Harbor Regional Health Community Hospital),” Ritter said. “Luckily District 7 had two firefighters.”

Grays Harbor Fire District 7 assisted OSFD with several fires over the weekend, Ritter said, thanking both them and the OSPD for their assistance.

“I just want to thank the crews,” Ritter said. “Our neighbors to the north and our police, that’s a great partnership.”

Two cats were rescued from the third incident, Ritter said, but the house will require extensive restoration to treat smoke damage.

“Everything the smoke touches has to be ripped out,” Ritter said. “It’s a carcinogen; it’s highly toxic.”

AFD, Hoquiam Fire Department and Grays Harbor Fire District responded to the Hoquiam fire, which was a serious residential structure fire.

“We had a structure fire on Lawrence. It was a total loss, unfortunately,” said HFD Capt. Larissa Rohr. “The homeowners made it out of the residence. However, they were injured.”

Both residents were transported to Harbor Regional Health Community Hospital; one had burns across approximately 35 percent of their flesh, Rohr said, while the other was treated for smoke inhalation and released.

AFD responded to a fire in Aberdeen which came back to life nearly a day after it was extinguished, Swinheart said.

“We were back there almost 20 hours later for a hot spot that flared back up,” Swinheart said.

Inclement weather inbound

More storms are coming, with the possibility of more power outages, Ritter said.

“Keeping people prepared is our biggest concern. Are people prepared to weather out the storm?” Ritter said. “We work on the coast and this is something we see every year. We get concerned about people who are dependent on power. We get concerned with people using generators and alternate heat sources and barbecues indoors.”

Ocean Shores residents in particular and Grays Harbor County residents in general should make preparations to weather it out if storms knock out power, Ritter said.

“We’ve lost power — I think in ‘07 we lost power for a week or more,” Ritter said. “We’re only so many people. We can only do what we can with what we have.”

Rohr echoed those concerns, recommending residents be very careful in using auxiliary heating or lighting sources not to create fire, carbon monoxide or other kinds of risks, such as candles getting knocked over or heaters igniting carelessly placed clothing.

“Get your homes winter ready,” Rohr said. “Make sure there’s nothing near space heaters or wood fires that could catch fire.”

Rohr advised caution as torrential rains are forecast to hit the Harbor.

“Always expect local flooding. Typically, our city has sandbags available,” Rohr said. “Drive slow through floodwaters. Turn around, don’t drown.”

Swinheart also recommended that residents be careful of landslides over roads or in hilly residences.

“If they’re seeing anything, notify the proper city departments so they can deal with any debris that goes over the roadway,” Swinheart said. “If they see any instability (in a hillside), evacuate, and contact city to make sure it’s safe before returning.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or