Power pole fires cause outages all over San Francisco

May 27, 2013 5:58:59 AM PDT
Power poles all over San Francisco caught fire Sunday, cutting off power to thousands and keeping crews busy scrambling across the city.

At the height of these incidents, about 3,000 people were without power. By 5 p.m., about 1,000 still didn't have power. Our cameras caught crews at California on 25th Avenue working to repair a power pole that split and caught fire early Sunday morning. Several power poles caught fire throughout the city. And while no one was injured, one man had a very close call.

Several power poles like this one on London and Russia streets burst into flames and sparks overnight. Paul Michael says this pole on Parnassus between Cole and Clayton streets blew up Sunday morning as he was backing his car out of his garage.

"I heard a small explosion and I saw sparks coming from the area there on that pole," he said. "Then suddenly this wire came down across the hood of my car."

It was this high voltage wire that now lies across Parnassus Street. Michael says he stayed in his car because he was afraid of being electrocuted and called 911. Firefighters got him free. He says he owes his life to disaster training.

"I took NERT training," he said. "And I just know from so many years of seeing wires down."

PG&E repaired the pole and strung new wire. About a dozen homes were dark here for about seven hours.

Across town a power pole here on Silver Avenue and Congdon was smoking into the afternoon. Another on Tunnel and Blanken was also damaged when it caught fire. This one on California at 25th Avenue caused the pole to split and dangle over the street. It forced firefighters to close California between 24th and 27th avenues from Clement to Lake.

SFFD Battalion Chief Khai Ali says fire crews responded to these calls all over the city.

"There were reported nine pole transformer fires last night in the last 24 hours," Chief Ali said.

PG&E says wet weather overnight was the catalyst. That joined with dust to cause a short circuit on these poles.

"That can actually lead it to becoming a little muddy," PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian said. "And when there's that mud, that's a conductor of electricity."

PG&E says while these incidents are rare, they're not uncommon. They say they have a maintenance program to try to keep the lines clean so these incidents don't happen. But apparently some either get missed or get dirty so quickly that these incidents are unavoidable.

San Francisco wasn't the only area experiencing power line problems related to the weather. There were several pole fires reported in San Mateo County, including one early Sunday morning in South San Francisco where the wind sent embers from the pole.

MONDAY UPDATE: As of about 6 a.m., about 100 people were still without power.


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