Oregon PUC Sets Deadline For Resumption Of Phone Service In Fire Zones

Nov 20, 2020

The agency that regulates utilities in Oregon is giving phone companies until the end of next month to re-establish land line telephone service in areas affected by wildfires.

The Holiday Farm Fire swept through several communities, including Blue River. Phone companies are having trouble restoring service to affected areas.
Credit Andy Nelson / Register-Guard/pool

More than two months after the Holiday Farm Fire devastated towns along the McKenzie River east of Springfield, CenturyLink is still struggling to get service re-established. The company’s Stephanie Herron told the Oregon Public Utility Commission that it’s more than just stringing up telephone wires.

"We completely lost our central office and all of the equipment that is in that market," she said. "We also have about 25 miles worth of fiber that we have to replace in order to get everything back up and working.”

But even stringing up telephone wires has its challenges. "We've gotten some of the easy ones out of the way," she said. "The ones that are left are more of a task."

The PUC said it's received about 20 formal complaints from people in affected areas about the lack of restored phone service. Cell phone coverage in some hard hit areas was spotty even before the fires and without landlines, meaning residents there have no reliable way of calling 911.

The PUC gave CenturyLink two deadlines: Provide an alternate phone service such as satellite phones by December 1st, and restore regular landline service by January 1st.