PENDLETON — Pendleton’s police cars, ambulances and fire engines could run out of fuel in two-and-half days during the Cascadia earthquake. Other local agencies might not make it that long.
Pendleton Public Works Director Bob Patterson revealed the duration at a recent city council work session on the new fire station. Beyond police and paramedics, the city also relies on a 1,200-gallon fuel generator to provide backup to the city’s water filtration plant. The generator burns 75 gallons of fuel an hour.
“The concern here,” Patterson said later, “is where the city does have backup generators, unless we have a large fuel depot, we’ll burn through fuel really quick.”
The city is looking at the possibility of installing a large above-ground fuel tank at the new fire station on Southeast Court Avenue for Cascadia or other catastrophes. Patterson said the city has an eye on the situation but installing a tank at this time is not a top priority.
The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office faces a similar hurdle. Sheriff Terry Rowan said his agency also lacks extra fuel for emergency vehicles. He said emergency agencies got a small taste of the need for fuel during the 2017 total solar eclipse, when there was worry the hordes of tourists would deplete local fuel stations. He said he took to carrying a couple of 5-gallon tanks for his sheriff’s vehicle “just in case.”
But the county jail is the larger concern, he said. Cascadia could disrupt the flow of electricity for days or weeks, and that means the jail would need its diesel generator for power. That is, he said, until the fuel ran out.
The county stores 10,000 gallons of diesel and a much smaller amount of gas at its road department on Westgate, but it may not be able to share.
Tom Fellows, the county’s public works director, explained state highway funds paid for the tank and pay for the fuel for road department vehicles to use. He said there could be a way for the department to provide fuel and get reimbursement, yet how much fuel the road department could spare is tough to say. While an earthquake like Cascadia should not wreak havoc on local infrastructure the way it could on the west side of Oregon, Fellows said road crews still have to make sure they can get to places and clear routes.
Rowan said the sheriff’s office is working on some state grants that would allow for the purchase of a fuel trailer for patrol cars and other emergency vehicles. That kind of mobile unit, he said, also would be a boon during fire season, when fire trucks could need to keep going in remote parts of the county.
Chief Scott Stanton with Umatilla County Fire District 1 said fuel access has come up during exercises and planning for Cascadia.
“We have talked about it,” he said, “but probably not enough.”
The fire district has about 300 gallons of diesel and another 100 of gas, he said, but that would not last long. Stanton said he has been looking into bridging the gap if power goes out and vehicles can’t fill up at the pumps.
“I think we might be OK with farmers we can buy fuel from,” he said.
Oregon has no fuel refineries, and more than 90 percent of the state’s liquid fuel reserves are along a 6-mile stretch of the Willamette River in Portland that is vulnerable to liquefaction during an earthquake. But Patterson and Fellows stressed that does not mean Eastern Oregon would run dry for long. Highways should be open into eastern Washington, Idaho and down to Utah, they said, and trucks should be able to haul fuel here.
East Oregonian reporter Jade McDowell contributed to this story.