EUGENE, Ore. – Communications infrastructure destroyed in the Holiday Farm Fire is a large public safety concern, Oregon’s U.S. senators said during a news conference Saturday.
Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met with evacuees from communities hit hard by the fast-moving wildfire. The senators said residents returning to affected areas have expressed repeated concerns about not being able to communicate with the outside world.
“Communications was something that just kept coming back again, again and again” Wyden said.
Towers that provide signal to cell phones were destroyed by the flames, and buildings housing equipment for land line and internet companies were also burned.
“The towers were wiped out,” Wyden said, noting that some temporary equipment has been brought in as a quick-fix.
Verizon said two of the company's cell towers in Western Oregon were critically damaged.
"As a result, we lost service along Highway 126 around Blue River. We’ve deployed temporary satellite equipment in the area to replace some of the lost service and will be adding more temporary network assets in the coming days," a spokesperson told KEZI 9 News.
Lane County officials said AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all have devices on-site to help provide cellular service in McKenzie Bridge.
Still, coverage is sparse and many are in the dark, with no internet and no way to dial 911.
“Unfortunately, the Blue River central office that provides all the service has been destroyed,” said Roman Hernandez, with the telecommunications company Centurylink. “We’re committed to bringing the service back to you as soon as we can.”
Lane County Emergency Management is working with cell phone companies to obtain temporary equipment to restore service. Officials said the county is identifying locations to put the equipment and expects to release coverage maps and site locations in the coming days.
First responder networks used by police and firefighters are largely operational, a spokesperson for the county said.