What a Tangled Web : Suspicious Fire in Santa Ana Leaves Snarl of Phone Lines to Repair

Times Staff Writer

The Glendale Federal Savings & Loan branch in Santa Ana was eerily quiet Tuesday as its manager, Dino J. Duran, sat on the carpet of the bank lobby with a customer and her young child, who was playing with a large, stuffed pink rabbit.

The bank, usually bustling with ringing phones and customers, was almost silent. Nearby, dozens of Pacific Bell employees worked feverishly to restore telephone service to about 13,000 customers whose lines went dead following a suspicious fire early Monday.

"We can't do squat," Duran said. "All we can offer is service, and we're not offering any of that now."

Some Santa Ana businesses, such as one Merrill Lynch & Co. office, were fortunate enough to have at least intermittent service, but others were not so lucky.

"We've been totally shut off," said Charles Schuhmann, marketing office manager at Aetna Life & Casualty, which employs about 200 people at its Santa Ana office. "You realize just how dependent you are on the phone when you don't have it."

The fire, which occurred beneath the Santiago Creek Bridge at Main Street, also affected about 70 southern Orange County lottery retailers who sell 6/49 lotto tickets, according to Bob Taylor, director of public affairs for the California State Lottery. Most of the affected locations were in Dana Point, Irvine, Laguna Hills, El Toro and Mission Viejo.

Taylor said he expected all lottery retailers to be back to normal by this morning.

In Monday's fire, eight cables were destroyed and 10 others damaged, causing an estimated loss of $1 million, according to Linda Bonniksen, a spokeswoman for Pacific Bell.

The cables supplied 13,000 telephone lines to businesses and residents in Santa Ana and neighboring cities in the central county, including Pacific Bell's administrative offices and MainPlace/Santa Ana mall, Bonniksen said. And because the damage occurred at a connection line between northern and southern Orange County, some businesses as far away as San Clemente were affected.

"If (north county) businesses have clients in the south county, they're sitting idle," said Jerry M. Akin, service manager of operations at Pacific Bell. "We did as much rerouting as possible through other offices, but we were not able to reroute 100% of it."

Bonniksen said the burned cables were wedged beneath a tight crawl space, so workers had to dig four manholes and two excavation pits on Main Street.

"We've got a crew of 28 splicers working round the clock," Bonniksen said. "They're cutting off the damaged ends of the cables and then finding their mates on the other half. Then they have to run a lot of tests to make sure it's right. This is really a super-difficult job."

She added that 2,500 feet of underground cable has been pulled to the surface to reach the damaged area.

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