DWP still investigating cause of transformer explosion that left 140,000 Valley customers without power
An explosion at a DWP plant left 140,000 San Fernando Valley customers without power on Saturday. (July 10, 2017)
Pat Pope was enjoying a performance of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night when he started getting texts from his friends about the power outage.
When the Porter Ranch resident got home at 11:30 p.m., it was 86 degrees and he could hear his neighbors’ generators humming. Power was out all night, and Pope said he didn’t get much sleep because of the heat.
“It was just a nasty night for a lot of people in the Valley,” he said.
Pope was among 140,000 customers in the San Fernando Valley who lost power after an explosion at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plant in Northridge caused a fire that burned for hours, knocking out traffic lights and stranding people in elevators.
The outages hit businesses and residents in Northridge, Winnetka, Reseda, Lake Balboa, Tarzana, North Hills, Granada Hills, Chatsworth, West Hills, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills, DWP officials said.
The loss of power came at the peak of a heat wave that pushed temperatures to 100 degrees in many parts of the Valley. Woodland Hills reported a temperature of 110 while Lake Balboa hit 107 on Saturday afternoon. Downtown Los Angeles hit a record high of 98 degrees.
By 11 p.m. Saturday, 94,000 were still without power, officials said. The agency was able to restore power to those remaining customers by 8 a.m. Sunday.
DWP spokesman Michael Ventre did not have details on where Saturday’s power loss ranks in recent years, but noted “it’s a significant outage.”
It remains unclear whether the blast was related to heavy demand due to the heat wave. But it was another illustration of the city’s delicate infrastructure, which has manifested itself in epic bursts of aging water works and crumbling sidewalks and streets.
Residents of an apartment complex near the DWP plant on Parthenia Street in Northridge reported hearing an explosion at the plant just before 7 p.m. Saturday, and firefighters arrived to find a gigantic vat with as much as 60,000 gallons of mineral oil — used as a cooling agent for electrical equipment — on fire, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.
Humphrey said dozens of firefighters extinguished the flames with water and foam by 9 p.m. “These were fierce flames, with smoke towering more than 300 feet into the sky,” Humphrey said.
No one was injured. He said mechanical failure related to cooling equipment might have caused the explosion, though the investigation continues.
Workers could be seen inspecting the blackened transformer Sunday. The transformer yard is fenced off from the public.
Humphrey said firefighters rescued dozens of people who were stranded in elevators in buildings around the Valley.
Officials estimate that between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of mineral oil were released during the explosion, said Nosa Omoruyi, a hazardous materials specialist with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Water used to douse the fire carried oil into storm drains, and officials want to make sure the drains are cleaned of any oil, Omoruyi said.
Power was shut off at the DWP plant to allow firefighters to fight the blaze.
Receiving Station J was built in the 1950s to serve the growing industrial area in the northwest valley, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation. It’s one of 21 receiving stations in the DWP network that act as a bridge between power plants and local distribution, according to agency figures. High-voltage power lines enter the grid at these stations, where the voltage is reduced and eventually sent to customers.
The remains of a structure and boats scorched by the Whittier fire sit along State Route 154 in the Los Padres National Forest near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Whittier fire burns toward State Route 154 on Sunday in the Los Padres National Forest near Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of people seek relief from the hot weather in the surf Sunday along the Santa Monica Pier.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of people seek relief from the hot weather Sunday near the Santa Monica Pier.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A young girl tries to outrun the hot sand near Arlington West Santa Monica memorial on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Hazmat workers inspect a storm drain after a Saturday night’s explosion at a Department of Water and Power station in Northridge. Thousands of gallons of mineral oil, a coolant, were sent down drains as firefighters used water to douse a burning transformer.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A man wipes his face in front of his home on Logan Street in Los Angeles.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A woman shields herself from the hot sun in 91 degree weather in Chinatown.(Christina House / For The Times)
Jacob Martinez, 8, of Anaheim, waits for the water to turn on after a brief break to cool off in the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton,(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The Whittier Fire burns on the north side of the Santa Inez Mountains near Goleta.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A hot spot burns ahead of the Alamo fire near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters look on as a helicopter drops water on the Alamo fire near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A firefighter maneuvers his vehicle down a private road as the Alamo fire burns near Santa Maria on Saturday, July 8, 2017.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Johnny Lewis, left, and his friend of over 50 years Earl Jackson, right, find refuge in the shade of an abadoned restaurant on Vermont and 54th in Los Angeles on Friday, during the region’s latest heat wave.(Christina House / For The Times)
People brave record 110-degree temperature Friday while walking to work in West Hills in the San Fernando Valley.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A visitor to Angels Gate Park in San Pedro watches the setting sun against a fiery sky at the end of a hot day in Southern California.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Melissa Garcia, 6, cools off in the Reseda Park pool in the San Fernando Valley on Friday afternoon.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Maricruz Garista, 17, cools off during a break from carp fishing with relatives at the Los Angeles River.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
People cool off in the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The crowd waits for the water to return after a brief break in the spray pool at Fullerton’s Lemon Park.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Kids cool off in the spray pool at Fullerton’s Lemon Park.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A woman shields herself from the hot sun in 91 degree weather in Chinatown.(Christina House / For the Times)
In Chinatown, pedestrians use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun in 91 degree weather on Friday.(Christina House / For the Times)
Jocelyn Caravantes, 3, left, and her brother Dean, 6, play in their Boyle Heights pool on a hot afternoon while their mother, Evelyn, watches from a chair in the shade.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Swimmers dive from a pier at Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe, where temperature are expected in the mid 80’s today.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Darin Yoon, 12, endures the late afternoon sun as he sits with his father, John, at Dodger Stadium to watch the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks game.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Daniel Garcia rides around the Rose Bowl Loop Trail on a hot day in the Southland with temperatures expected to reach triple digits on Friday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Anthony Garcia, 7, cools off at the splash pad at Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Los Angeles.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters extinguish a brush fire at Buena Vista Meadow in Elysian Park in Los Angeles.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maribel Vasquez cleans reserved level seats in the hot afternoon sunshine hours before the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks game at Dodger Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A concertgoer prepares his spot for a free concert at Eastgate Park in Garden Grove.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
Josh Peralta plays in water splashing in a fountain in Cathedral City, where temperature reached 118 degrees.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Tina Robinson, left, and Eric Johns of Chicago beat the heat by walking under a cool mist and sipping colds drink in Palm Springs.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Moises Lopez takes a water break from landscaping a San Gabriel Mission school to stay hydrated.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Lincoln watches over pet owner Michelle Virney while she takes a nap to cool off in Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Surfers set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the largest paddle-out on International Surfing Day.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Surfers line up before attempting to set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the largest paddle-out, forming the Surfing Circle of Honor on International Surfing Day.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Umbrellas are required equipment while walking around Vincent Lugo Park as temperatures rise during the latest heat wave.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
To beat the heat, Lily Lin leads an early morning Tai Chi class at Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
From left, Aaron Stevens, 11, Alida Stevens, 4, and Brian Botts, 9, wave down customers as they sale refreshments on a hot summer day in Van Nuys. “We want to help people hydrate while helping ourselves,” Aaron Stevens said.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
Brian Botts, left, and Aaron Stevens, right, prepare a cup of Kool-Aid for Carlos Zepeda in Van Nuys.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
Tawny Auer joins her sons Shane, left, and Carter to cool off in a pool at the aquatic center in Palm Desert, where temperature reached 115 degrees.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Adrian Rosales cools off at the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times )
Children splash in water from the spray pool at Lemon Park in Fullerton.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times )
Boaters relax on Big Bear Lake as a giant plume from the Holcomb fire burns nearby in rugged terrain in the San Bernardino National Forest.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Luigi, a thirsty pit bull, cools down at Genesee Avenue Park in Los Angeles.(Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)
As residents switch on air conditioners to deal with the sweltering July heat, it means the region draws more power, said Rajit Gadh, engineering professor at UCLA. Substations used to transfer that energy require cooling or they can become overheated.
“When temperatures rise that much, then lots of things can potentially go wrong, including the electric grid,” Gadh said.
Power was out for 13 hours at Pacifica Senior Living, an assisted senior living facility in Northridge. Staffers handed out wet towels and water, and a generator kept emergency lights running in the hallways, but residents’ rooms remained dark, without air conditioning.
“It was a bit rough,” said Cristina Gutierrez, the facility’s executive director. She sent staffers to Target Saturday night to buy lanterns for residents shortly after the power went out at 7 p.m. Residents also gathered in the main entrance hall to keep cool.
No staffer at Pacifica could recall another time when the facility’s power was out for 13 hours, Gutierrez said. Power was restored about 8 a.m. Sunday morning, she said.
Northridge Hospital Medical Center lost power Saturday night, and backup generators immediately kicked on until electricity was restored Sunday morning, hospital spokeswoman Christina Zicklin said. Dozens of fans and emergency lighting were used, and medical officials diverted emergency runs to nearby hospitals, she said.
“Our patients were not affected other than getting a little warm,” Zicklin said.
James Kostrach, 63, was having a quiet Saturday cleaning his backyard when suddenly the area sounded like a war zone, he said.
“I heard ‘blam!’’’ said Kostrach, who lives in a small house just behind the transformer yard in Northridge.
The noise drew him toward the DWP yard, where he saw a big plume of smoke and flames. He’s heard similar noises from the yard before, but nothing as loud as what occurred Saturday.
“I knew that there wasn’t going to be electricity,” Kostrach said.
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