PORTLAND, Ore. – A tree limb came down and pulled a power line with it in the West Hills area of Southwest Portland Tuesday morning, sparking two fires and coming perilously close to a KATU News crew reporting on snowy weather.
KATU News reporter Lincoln Graves was at the intersection of Southwest Skyline Boulevard and Thompson Road early in the morning reporting on snow at high elevations when the power line came down only yards away.
Graves and KATU photojournalist Brian Smith were uncomfortably close to the arcing, sparking power line as the energized wire quickly caught a parked vehicle on fire.
Another section of downed line was so hot it caught fire in the middle of the roadway. Graves said he and Smith did not hear the tree limb fall but Graves said he did hear a loud “zapping sound” as he sat in a live van and saw “five or six” bright flashes close to the vehicle.
Smith was still outside the news van and was able to move about but Graves remained in the vehicle and could not leave since the ground was possibly electrified.
"I was terrified," Graves told KATU.com. "As soon as the sky lit up and I heard the 'zapping' sounds, I thought the worst. I put my hands over my head thinking our truck mast had somehow touched a power line."
"There were a lot of scary moments," Smith said, "but once it was all over, I was glad to have the experience."
After it was determined the news van was safe, Graves said he was concerned about more power lines possibly coming down and touching the vehicle, which has a tall mast with a microwave transmitter.
Sadhana Kapur owns the SUV that burned.
"It's not the worst thing that can happen to anyone and nobody was hurt, so that's the good thing. That's why I feel ok about it," Kapur said.
Her daughter Leah was watching KATU when the power line came down.
"I was actually watching your news channel and I saw a picture of your car and I was like 'mom, it's your car on TV," she said.
Firefighters were quick to arrived from a station just two blocks away. But because of the hilly location, it took a while before PGE crews showed up to turn off the electricity. Fire crews kept their distance since no structures were involved.
Fire crews tried to put out the car fire but since power was still running through the downed line, the fire kept igniting.
Firefighters were working close to the flames when bright arcs of power suddenly lit up the intersection. They were not hurt.
Once the power was off, the vehicle fire and flaming power line were quickly extinguished. The car was heavily damaged.
About 250 customers were affected by the power outage. Graves and Smith were not hurt. PGE worked through the morning to restore power to customers and clear the downed tree limb.
In a press release, Portland Fire and Rescue said they want to remind citizens that contact with downed power lines could end tragically and snowy conditions can hide a downed power line from view. They say to be sure to maintain a safe distance to avoid contact with downed power lines. If you encounter a downed power line, call 9-1-1.
Watch the Tuesday morning live report from Lincoln Graves: