ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - An underground electrical explosion sent
flames and smoke bursting through a manhole and cut off power for
downtown residents and businesses for several hours.
The fire started around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday when it's believed a
transformer exploded, blowing the cover off a manhole in a downtown
Roanoke intersection, said Thomas Franklin, a technician contracted
by AEP to treat the fire.
"They just get old," Franklin said. "It ain't something
that's uncommon."
Fire officials closed off a one-block perimeter around the
intersection, and American Electric Power Co. technicians cut power
to a large portion of downtown to put out the fire. Officials said
the fire was extinguished by 10:30 p.m.
No injuries or fatalities were reported.
About 450 customers were without power, including The Roanoke
Times, which could not continue production of Wednesday's paper
until after power was restored at about 6 a.m.
The outage also knocked WSLS-TV off the air.
It was the second time in six weeks an electrical fire caused a
major power outage in the downtown area. An early morning fire in
one of AEP's electrical vaults in March shut down power for more
than two hours, affecting about 420 customers.
Todd Burns, AEP corporate communications manager, said a switch
failure may have been the cause of Tuesday night's explosion.
The March fire was caused by deterioration of electrical cable,
he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)