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Fires Occur at WI Substations; None Injured

Friday, July 26, 2019

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Last Friday (July 19), around 7:30 a.m., fires broke out at the American Transmission Company/Madison Gas & Electric Blount Street Substation and the East Campus Substation, in Madison, Wisconsin. No injuries were reported, though around 13,000 people were initially left without power.

The fires at both substations were contained later that same morning. The city was also anticipating a heat wave around the time of the incidents, but the strain on the power grid was not named as a culprit behind the loss of power.

What Happened

MG&E maintains that the fires were likely the result of a mechanical issue. In the Madison area, there are around 20 combined MG&E and ATC substations, as well as a number of other substations belonging to just MG&E. Officials from both companies noted that the equipment that failed would be further examined.

"We’re dealing with mechanical type issues,” said ATC vice president of system operations Paul Roehr. "So it is possible these types of things happen. They are very rare in nature. With any piece of mechanical equipment, they are subject to failures at times."

During a news conference held during last Friday afternoon, Roehr noted that the substations were “electrically connected,” making the fires likely connected as well.

The power has been restored in the interim, according to the live outage map. An estimate on damages is also unknown.

According to ATC, the fire at the Blount Street Substation was largely contained. During the weekend, what remained of insulating fluid from a damaged transformer was removed, and other liquid was also recovered from outside the substation.

Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency following the incidents, which resulted in a temporary shutdown of some elements of government. The governor also authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to work with local authorities if needed. Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis noted that it took around 15 to 20 minutes to de-energize a substation, along with another five to 10 minutes to smother the fire with foam.

OSHA Investigation, Moving Forward

A spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted earlier this week that the government agency will not be investigating the fires, though the agency had previously informed another news station that it would be examining the issue, and that the investigation could take six months.

The spokesperson’s retraction of the previous statement amended that the agency would not be investigating, as “there were no employees at the site and no injuries.”

As of earlier this week, cleanup at the Blount Street Substation continued. The East Campus Substation also experienced minor damage.

Moving forward, a newly formed project team from ATC will evaluate the condition of the equipment, as well as make repairs and continue the investigation.

“ATC conducts routine inspections and maintenance on all of our equipment. Inspections were performed in the Blount Street Substation on Tuesday and Wednesday last week,” ATC wrote in a release.

“As part of those inspections, we identified one component within the substation that we felt required additional review, and we made plans to analyze further this week. That component is part of our investigation. We do not want to draw any conclusions until we review all possibilities. Our goal is to determine the cause with reasonable certainty before the end of the month.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health & Safety; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Rehabilitation/Repair

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