Explosion, flames at electrical substation light up Portland night

Published: Nov. 5, 2022 at 4:26 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Reported explosions and a blazing fire at a Portland electrical substation near Mt. Tabor lit up the night on Friday, according to Portland Fire & Rescue.

Shortly after 9 p.m., firefighters responded to reports of a transformer problem at the intersection of Northeast 60th Avenue and Stark Street. While in route, they received further reports of fire and explosions at a substation at that intersection.

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Neighbors in the area said they saw a fireball shoot into the sky.

“I’ve never heard transformers, I think, blow that brightly or loudly,” Tim Jones said.

When firefighters arrived, they found “heavy” fire in and around the substation.

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Vivian Court, another neighbor, said she looked out the window and saw a giant flash of light.

“A really loud sound, an explosion sound and my whole building’s power went out,” Court said. “I freaked out, and thought the worst.”

Because fighting electrical fires can be uniquely dangerous, the first crews to arrive parked their rigs to keep traffic away from the blaze, firefighters said. Then they searched the area for any signs the fire was spreading to nearby structures.

They decided the fire was only in the fenced area of the substation and posed little risk to surrounding homes and business. But fighting the fire was complicated by electricity continuing to flow through the substation, and the flames being fed by oil from the transformer.

A PGE representative who lived nearby advised the commanding officer to let the fire burn until they had more resources on scene. Once PGE line operators arrived, they entered the substation with two firefighters to further assess the situation. They decided to use one water line to reduce the flames and extinguished the rest with chemical suppressants.

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No surrounding structures were affected by the blaze, and there were no reported injuries.

Court said she’s glad no one lost their home, and no one was hurt.

“Because that was really the main thing,” Court said. “Everyone was terrified that our homes were going to, like, burn down.”

As power crews cleaned up the aftermath on Saturday, several neighbors walked by to watch - including Sarah Hawkins.

“We heard a big explosion and our power went out,” Hawkins said. “We got all the candles out and eventually fell asleep and woke up and the lights were on at 3 a.m.”

Firefighters did not say what caused the explosion, nor if it was related to the earlier power outages from the Friday storm.