Monday, July 28, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

5-acre fire causes big blackout

By
From page A1 | July 03, 2013 |

DSC_4667 ec

FLAMES – Allen Beck, manager of El Dorado Nursery and Garden on Durock Road, keeps water on hot spots as flames rise in the neighboring property. The fire broke out near a PG&E substation, blacking out power to thousands and closing Highway 50. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum

A fire on Durock Road in Shingle Springs burned 5 acres Monday afternoon, affecting a nursery and PG&E power substation and causing power outages countywide.

The fire was reported at 4:03 p.m. when a part fell off of a car on Highway 50, sparking the blaze, said Cal Fire’s Teri Mizuhara. “It was a critical area, with the power station,” she said.

Soon after, Durock Road and Highway 50 in both directions were closed and fire engines and crews were pouring in. A bulldozer worked to push down trees to stop the spread of the fire to El Dorado Nursery; it still burned piles of material including playground fiber and bark.

Two planes circled overhead, one an air attack eye-in-the-sky, the other a tanker. The tanker was soon called off as it would be unable  to accurately drop without potentially hitting the substation.

The substation was still affected by the fire, taking some damage. “There was arcing from power lines to the metal highway fence, sparking more fires,” said Cameron Park Fire Captain Grant Ingram.

Meanwhile, the fire caused multiple transformers to blow, along with a nearby propane tank venting, said Mark Brunton of Cal Fire.

Kathleen McGinnis, who lives across the street from the nursery, heard the transformers. “I smelled smoke and there was a ‘kaboom,’” she said. She put out a small fire and told her husband, Dave, and friend Randy Mayer to come help. They grabbed hoses and hopped the fence to fight the fire, she said.

“It was so fast of a thing,” Mayer said,”it was unbelievable.”

Brendan Wilce, an employee of the nursery, described hearing three or four “pops” as the transformers exploded. He also had to put out a small, 10-inch-diameter spot fire caused by falling embers. Another spot fire, about 30 feet in diameter, also popped up that he and manager Al Beck fought while firefighters sped in, ground crews marching along the road.

“They were 12-to-18-inch flames,” Wilce said. “It spread very quick once it got going.” He noted the goats on the property hid behind the goat pen.

No damage was done to structures, but power was cut to about 49,000 people across the county, PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said.

“That includes homes and businesses,” she noted.

The power was out from 4:19 p.m. after they “de-engergized two lines per Cal Fire’s request.” This “persevered the integrity of the infrastructure,” she said, allowing them to get power on sooner. De-energizing lines is a common tactic with fires, she said, as it lessens damage to the network. At 9:09 p.m., the last 1,650 customers had power restored.

Brunton noted the power was out “from the El Dorado County Line to the summit, to Amador County and to Georgetown.”

Highway 50 was closed both ways, with the fire nearing the highway. A helicopter hovered over the burn just before 6 p.m., providing assistance, with the majority of the fire having been contained but still burning. Traffic was backed up well into El Dorado Hills from the Ponderosa exit.

Mizuhara said that “911 was hammered with calls by folks on oxygen,” she said, as people were running out and required a refill. Jamie Morgan and his crew from the Office of Emergency Services with the county set up cooling stations that also refilled oxygen tanks, she said. “There are many seniors who can’t handle the heat.”

The fire was officially contained by 8:31 p.m. Cal Fire, El Dorado County Fire, El Dorado Hills Fire, Diamond Springs Fire, Rescue Fire, Latrobe Fire, Georgetown Fire, Cameron Park Fire and the U.S. Forest Service all responded to the conflagration.

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