Power has been out for days at many businesses on the Third Street Promenade and a number of other downtown buildings in Santa Monica after underground electrical vaults in the area exploded Saturday, July 22nd.
As energy usage has skyrocketed with the recent intense heat wave throughout Southern California, Santa Monica fire officials say two Southern California Edison electrical vaults beneath Santa Monica Boulevard exploded shortly after 5 p.m. near the Promenade.
The force of the explosions blew manhole covers into the air and shot flames up to 15 feet high, fire officials said.
There were no reported injuries or property damages other than to the vaults involved, fire officials said.
The explosions initially cut power to nearly 1,150 Southern California Edison customers and left a large number of downtown businesses, including those on the west side of Third Street Promenade, in the dark.
Many of those businesses were still without power at Argonaut press time, forcing them to close and lose out on summer sales during the outage.
As of Wednesday, July 26th, most had access to temporary power. Bayside District officials said power is not expected to be fully restored for another couple of days.
At night, much of the west side of the Promenade looked like a ghost town in contrast to the east side, where most businesses were up and running.
“It’s been terrible, we’ve come to a screeching halt,” Bayside District Corporation executive director Kathleen Rawson said two days after the downtown power outage. Bayside District Corporation is a public-private management company that oversees downtown Santa Monica.
The loss of power has not only affected downtown office buildings, restaurants and retail businesses, but many residents as well, she said.
Despite the darkness and closure of businesses on the west side, visitors continued to cruise the Promenade and street performers kept putting on their shows.
“People are still coming,” Rawson said following the outage.
Santa Monica fire officials said the power outage began after an electrical vault under alley two of Santa Monica Boulevard and another vault in an alley south of Santa Monica Boulevard exploded July 22nd.
Three Santa Monica Fire Department engine companies, one truck company with a light-air unit and one paramedic ambulance were called to the scene at 5:04 p.m. The Los Angeles City Fire Department and Santa Monica Police Department were also called for assistance.
First arriving fire units reported smoke coming from the vaults, indicating an explosion, Santa Monica Fire Captain Scott Ziegert said.
“It’s like coming out of a chimney,” Ziegert said of the force that blew off the manhole covers.
Following the explosions, firefighters and police officers closed Santa Monica Boulevard to vehicle and foot traffic between Ocean Avenue and Fourth Street.
“Our main thing was to secure the area,” Ziegert said.
Firefighters also received numerous calls of people trapped in elevators in the area and freed everyone within 25 minutes, he said.
Southern California Edison crews arrived at the scene at about 6:40 p.m. to make repairs and replace damaged equipment, including oil switches, cables and transformers, Boyd said.
The heavy demand on the equipment and prolonged heat appeared to have been the main factors in the explosions, fire and Edison officials said.
“It’s just overload,” Ziegert said. “There’s so much electrical load and so much demand on the system.”
The preliminary cause of the vault explosion appears to be transformer failure, which took out several “runs” of underground cable,” said Edison spokesman Tom Boyd said.
The loss of power during the high temperatures of the summer is nothing new for the downtown Santa Monica area, Rawson said.
“Every summer we have this problem,” she said.
But downtown Santa Monica has not recently experienced anything to this extent, where businesses are still dark three days after power first went out, she said.
Bayside District Corporation officials plan to meet with Southern California Edison representatives to discuss the downtown electrical infrastructure and ways to prevent future prolonged outages, Rawson said.