Underground Explosion Causes Massive Outages
by Laura Monteverdi, Reporter
January 25, 2013 6:40 PM
An early Friday morning underground explosion has caused massive power outages for businesses and apartments in downtown Sioux Falls.
Firefighters said they were called to the intersection of 9th Street and Phillips Avenue around 4:30, where they said smoke and flames were coming from a manhole. Officials said some of the flames were shooting 20-30 feet high.
“It sounded like 2 big bangs, it was loud enough to wake me up,” said Anthony Hawthorne, who heard the explosion from his hotel room.
Officials say an explosion underground ignited the fire, putting enough pressure on the manholes for them to physically blow off and damage the electrical system below.
“We're going to have to replace all the electrical equipment underground. It is completely damaged," said Jim Wilcox from Xcel Energy.
The explosion initially left nearly 500 downtown customers without power and has forced crews to shut down the entire stretch of 8th Street to 11th Street until further notice.
“I haven't seen anything like this before where we've had an electrical fire in the vaults,” said Chief Jim Sideras of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue. “Normally it's really small and contained and this one just happens to be much larger and just because of the nature of it, it affected a larger area of downtown Sioux Falls that is vital to Sioux Falls and we want to get moving as fast as we can,” explained Sideras.
Once the fire was put out and no gas leaks were found, Xcel crews were able to begin the underground investigation to find out what happened.
Fire crews remained on scene throughout the day to assist in an emergency.
“The fire is out. We're not worried about that now. It's the safety of the people working underground that we have all the fire crews down here for," said Sideras.
Officials say the main priority is to get power turned back on for downtown residents as quickly as possible.
Fire crews are warning downtown residents not to use generators or try to heat their homes using grills or ovens. They don’t want people to do this to avoid carbon monoxide problems and risk of fire.