Utility Says Fire Alarm Delay Worsened California Power Outage

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Failure of utility workers to quickly respond to a fire alarm at a substation may have worsened a power outage that left 125,000 city customers without electricity over the weekend.

Nearly two hours passed between the time a fire broke out at the Pacific Gas and Electric substation and crews discovered the blaze, utility officials said Tuesday. The related outage darkened a third of the city starting Saturday night.

``The preliminary findings show that failure to immediately respond to the initial indicators may have extended the duration of the outage,'' said Jeff Butler, vice president of operations, maintenance and construction at PG&E.

Butler said the company doesn't know why employees didn't respond sooner to the alarm that went out from the substation on Saturday afternoon to a monitoring facility in Daly City. He said the company is investigating.

Company officials said PG&E takes ``full responsibility'' for the problem and will accept monetary claims from people and businesses who suffered losses during the blackout, which lasted as long as 30 hours for some customers. Power wasn't fully restored until late Sunday.

Butler said the fire started when a power cable that carries electricity from the substation into neighborhoods ``blew,'' shooting sparks. An alarm for a tripped circuit breaker and a second alarm for the fire occurred within seconds of each other, and would have appeared on multiple computer screens at the Daly City control center, he said.

``The signal indicating a problem made it in a timely fashion, but no one saw it,'' Butler said.

PG&E says it paid out about $12 million to settle claims arising from a 1998 outage that affected an area from San Francisco to San Mateo for up to eight hours.