By Jayson Jacoby and Chris Collins
Baker City Herald
A rare Baker County ice storm, perhaps the worst of its kind in the past 20 years, slathered streets, roads and pretty much any inanimate object with a slippery glaze overnight.
Conditions were sufficiently dangerous to prompt school officials to cancel classes in Baker, Burnt River in Unity, and North Powder.
Baker County Circuit Court also was closed today.
“It’s an awful mess out there,” said Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation in La Grande. “It’s just a sheet of ice on all the highways.”
Nor were the problems confined to highways.
Baker City Police were busy this morning responding to several accidents on city streets. These included a multiple-vehicle crash — one of them a semi-truck — near the intersection of Hughes Lane and Cedar Street that blocked that northside junction temporarily.
Baker City street maintenance crews were out at 4 a.m. today sanding and salting the roadways to help alleviate the slipping and sliding that was nearly unavoidable.
“They’re treacherous,” Tom Fisk said of the street conditions this morning. “It’s about as bad as we’ve seen it.”
Fisk, the city’s operations supervisor, has been with the Public Works Department since 1994.
In addition to the main city routes, his crews have been sanding or salting the thoroughfares through town, including Campbell, Broadway and Main streets.
Several crashes on Interstate 84 temporarily blocked one or more lanes of the freeway.
Both eastbound lanes were closed for about three hours this morning, but one lane re-opened about 8:15 a.m.
Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner said his night shift patrol was held over to help the day shift officers as they attempted to help people.
“It’s tough to stay on the road this morning,” he said.
Several people were hurt in crashes, but the severity of the injuries wasn’t immediately known.
Baker County Roadmaster Jeff Smith and Nolan Perkins, assistant roadmaster, were at Hughes Lane and Cedar Street this morning working to help get the road cleared, said Christy Vega, department assistant.
The county has no sand or salt trucks, but only snowplows, which would have been of no use in the ice storm, Vega said.
The Baker School District made the decision to close schools about 4 a.m., said Norma Nemec, executive secretary to the superintendent and school board.
She said Doug Dalton, the district’s chief financial officer and business manager, and Wayne Paxton, transportation supervisor, were up at 2 a.m. checking the roads.
Word of the closure first went to the principals, who then alerted teachers, who called parents. The information also was sent to the media and posted on the district website at baker.k12.or.us and on Facebook.
Superintendent Walt Wegener is at Salishan on the Oregon Coast for a meeting of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, Nemec said.
Head Start classes also were canceled this morning, said teacher Paulette Romtvedt.
Christy Swindlehurst, secretary for the Burnt River District at Unity said she walked over to the school from her home nearby to make sure no one showed up for classes this morning. The decision to close for the day came at about 5:30 a.m. and calls were made, she said.
No one was answering the phone at the Huntington School this morning.
Snow fell in Halfway, where schools were open as usual today.