May 24--Officials said Wednesday morning they are not sure what caused a fire in an underground utility vault that knocked out electricity to about 2,000 Pacific Power customers.
"I'm sure that will be coming along," Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said. "As (utility workers) did the repairs they collected forensic evidence. They'll be looking at that" to determine a cause.
The restoration for most customers began at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours earlier than projected. Most customers were restored by 8 p.m.
A 911 caller reported the fire at about 5:30 p.m. after flames were seen near Northwest Eighth Avenue and Couch Street, where the utility vault is located. In addition to electrical disruptions for businesses and residences within the affected area, the ensuing 24 hours or so saw disruptions to TriMet bus and MAX light rail service, traffic signals, land line telephone service. The affected area was roughly rom Broadway on the east to Interstate 405 on the west and from Southwest Jefferson Street north to Northwest Davis Street (two blocks north of West Burnside).
"Once we determined the extent of the damage to an underground transformer vault, we could restore service to customers not directly affected by the damage," Curt Mansfield, vice president of operations, said in a news release.
About 24 customers close to the damaged vault still await reconnection. Those customers have service wires that go directly to the damaged area, Gauntt said.
Because it was an electrical fire in an enclosed area, Portland Fire & Rescue could only wait for the fire to burn itself out on Monday, bureau spokesman Lt. Rich Chatman said. Dousing the flames with water is ruled out in such fire because water conducts electricity.
Chatman said the fire's cause is being investigated.
Nearly all of Pacific Power's Oregon customers are outside the Portland metropolitan area, where the Portland-based utility has 75,000 customers. The utility has 740,000 customers in Oregon, Washington and California.
Portland General Electric, which has nearly 850,000 customers, serves the bulk of the Portland metro area.
Pacific Power serves the area affected by the vault fire through an agreement between Pacific Power and PGE in the 1970s, Gauntt said. At that time, he said, the utilities swapped service areas in the Portland metro area to improve efficiency in service delivery.
-- Allan Brettman
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