Michigan:11,000 in the dark due to transformer explosions

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Power outage linked to accident, explosions at 2 Pittsfield transformer sites.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001


Residents in about 11,000 local households can be thankful the heat and humidity dropped overnight after an evening power outage Tuesday left them without electricity for 10 hours.

But it was still plenty hot without air conditioning.

"I'm tired this morning because I didn't sleep very well," said Wendi Voorheis of Pittsfield Township, who said a three-car accident at Ellsworth and Golfside knocked down power lines and cut electricity to her neighborhood about 9 p.m. "It got very sticky in the house."

Most of the outages, though, were apparently caused by explosions at two transformers in Pittsfield Township, resulting in headaches for emergency personnel and Washtenaw County Road Commission employees. The cause is under investigation.

Firefighters were called to a transformer fire about 7 p.m. in the area of Oak Street and Grandview Drive and another at 9:38 p.m. at the transformer at 4977 Michigan Ave.

Fire Marshal James Payeur said a Detroit Edison employee was standing outside the substation on Michigan Avenue when the second explosion occurred. He was not injured. Crews told officials that the damage could exceed $1 million, and the entire transformer was destroyed.

"They were working on the system when it blew and caught fire," Payeur said. "They shut the power down, and we got inside and put it out with chemical extinguishers. There was a lot of smoke and heat."

Power lines came down near the transformer at Oak Street, lighting a yard on Club Place Drive on fire.

By 9:45 p.m., the Washtenaw County Road Commission announced it was out of stop signs to use at blacked-out intersections. Police officers scrambled to keep up with the steady stream of calls from motorists reporting traffic problems due to the power loss and a number of burglar alarms that activated at local businesses. They lit flares at the problem intersections to warn motorists of the outages.

Dispatchers at the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department were deluged with calls from residents asking when their power would be restored. They simply referred those calls on to Detroit Edison.

All power was restored at 5:30 a.m. today, Detroit Edison spokesman Scott Simon said.

The temperature was about 87 degrees when the power went out, according to University of Michigan meteorologist Dennis Kahlbaum, who said the temperature took a 4-degree dip about 7 p.m. It was in the upper 70s at midnight, when the humidity began to decrease as well.

This morning's low was 65.

Kahlbaum said this month could end up as the second-driest July on record. We've already received more rain this month than the driest July in 1936.

Temperatures in the mid-90s led to record electricity use by customers of Michigan's two largest utilities, Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy, officials said Tuesday.

Communities served by the Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority continue to be subject to water conservation measures, including an every-other-day ban on landscape watering and pool filling. These restrictions apply to the city of Ypsilanti and the townships of Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Superior and Augusta.

YCUA director Larry Thomas said the restrictions will remain until the area receives significant rainfall.

"We're holding up well now," he said. "As long as people keep observing the odd-even day restrictions, we'll be able to hold up."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 25, 2001

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