PORTLAND, Ore. - Three people, including a high school student, were killed after a power line fell on a vehicle during a damaging ice storm in Portland, Oregon.
Portland Fire & Rescue said it happened just before noon Wednesday when firefighters were dispatched to a possible car fire in northeast Portland. In the 45 seconds it took firefighters to get there, there were reports of a person on fire, a power line down in the street, three people lying in the street unconscious, and a 9-month-old baby who was in the arms of one of the unconscious people.
A witness pulled the child out of one of the victims’ arms. The baby was taken to an area hospital for evaluation, but appeared to be OK.
"That young child looked as mine did at that age, just happy, completely unaware of the situation that had just occurred," Rick Graves, Portland Fire & Rescue public information officer, said in an interview with FOX Weather. "It was emotionally charged."
Three people were killed when a power line fell across an SUV in Portland on Jan. 17, 2024. (FOX 12 Oregon / FOX Weather)
Investigators said the three people who died were in a full-sized SUV when a tree branch brought the power line down onto the vehicle. They got out of the SUV while the power line was still there.
"When the feet of the individuals touched the ground and their bodies were touching the car, they became part of the active electrical circuit, which resulted in their deaths," Portland Fire & Rescue officials said in a news release.
The teenager who died was identified as Milwaukie High School sophomore Ta’Ron Briggs, FOX 12 reports. Milwaukie High School sent out an email on Wednesday saying they will be offering support for students and staff as they grieve his death.
A major ice storm hit the Portland area Tuesday, just three days after a weekend winter storm brought heavy snowfall to the area. Around Portland, driving and even walking were virtually impossible as slick ice coated roads and sidewalks. Icicles dangled from roofs and cars, and ice encased branches, plants and leaves like thick glass.
What to do if a power line falls on your vehicle
Graves, of Portland Fire & Rescue, said the best way to stay safe if a power line falls on your vehicle is to remain inside the car and call emergency services. That way the downed power line can be de-energized before you exit the vehicle.
Photo of downed power line provided by Portland Fire & Rescue
"The insulation provided by the tires, the rubber, your tires onto the ground will keep you safe inside the vehicle," Graves said. "But once you begin to exit and you're touching the vehicle itself, along with touching the ground, you become part of that electrical circuitry and unfortunately you could have some grave consequences.
"So alert electrical or alert emergency services to have professionals come and de-energize that line, and you can talk about how scary it was rather than the converse of that," he continued.
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The three deaths Wednesday added to at least seven deaths linked to fallen trees and suspected hypothermia during the previous weekend’s storm.
"The myriad of emergencies that … our organization is responding to is continuous and it's widespread," Graves said. "We're responding to about four times the number of calls that we normally do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.