In the wake of a major January ice storm, Jake Jensen (above) – a maintenance coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation – became an unlikely hero as he almost single-handedly cut through toppled trees that had blocked and trapped motorists on two major rural roadways in Lane County.
[Above photo by Oregon DOT]
Conducting routine road safety checks on OR 36, Jensen – a 17-year Oregon DOT veteran – encountered blocked westbound lanes at the Knowles Creek Tunnel on OR 126W due to numerous trees toppled by the storm; stranding over a dozen vehicles.
Equipped with three chainsaws, fuel, and sheer determination, Jensen – joined by passengers from stranded vehicles – cleared dozens of fallen trees from Knowles Creek Tunnel towards Veneta. Fighting extreme fatigue, 18-degree temperatures, freezing rain, and darkness, they all worked tirelessly to cut a path just wide enough to drive through.
“The frozen trees dulled the chains on the saws,” Jensen noted in statement. “I had to rotate my saws, placing them inside the cab of my truck to keep them from freezing up. I went through six sets of bar chains. At one point, I made the decision to turn off my high beams because I could see how many more trees were in our path. I needed to focus on one tree at a time.”
Despite a tree striking Jensen’s work truck – fortunately damaging only the vehicle’s Variable Message Sign and rack – he continued forging a path forward through the fallen timber for the convoy of cars behind him.
“As quickly as we were clearing trees in front of us, we could hear trees falling behind and all around us,” he said. At one point, he met three vehicles trying to head west towards Florence. He swiftly turned them around before continuing east.
Over the next six and a half hours, as Jensen attempted to clear ice-covered trees eventually falling faster than he could clear by himself, other Oregon DOT crews arrived to help him finish clearing a path to safety.
Other state department of transportation crews across the country also went above and beyond the call of duty in the face of similar storms in January.
For example, the Iowa Department of Transportation recently detailed in a blog post how several of its snow removal crews not only worked exhausting 12- and 16-hour shifts to keep the state’s roadways clear for 16 days straight, they also helped save a child’s life, freed commercial trucks trapped on icy segments of highways, and busted through snow drifts piled as high as 12 feet in height.