An underground junction box on Fair Lane near the Superior Court driveway blew out on Thursday afternoon, causing a temporary power outage and a cloud of black smoke that choked the air.
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The power surge resulted in a power line falling into a ravine at 193 Fair Lane around 1:30 p.m, sparking a grass fire. El Dorado County Fire Battalion Chief Tim Cordero said the fire burned about an acre and a half before being contained.
The junction box, located at the county Juvenile Hall on Fair Lane, arced due to a power surge, blowing its lid off, El Dorado County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Pott said.
The power failure affected 614 businesses and homes on Forni Road and Placerville Drive as well as the county government center and library.
Bridgette McLane, who lives in a home in the ravine said she was watching TV when it started flickering and then went out. Next the lights in the house started making a strange sound. Going outside, she saw flames in the open field next to her home. After calling 911, she grabbed her four dogs and ran out the front door, stopping long enough to call her boyfriend and daughter.
“I was bawling and thought I’d have a heart attack,” she said, “It’s scary almost losing everything you own.”
McLane’s daughter, Natasha Jeffrey, said she found out about the fire when she saw a picture of it posted on Facebook. Recognizing the house, she rushed over to check on her mother. Jeffrey said the power line broke and was flying around, setting the grass on fire as the wind pushed the blaze up the hill towards Fair Lane.
Fran Forni, another resident in the area, also thought the loud pop was from a transformer.
Tammy and Bulldog Hein, who live in the same area, said the blaze came up the hill, almost to their lawn. Tammy “heard a boom” and minutes later, the fire was roaring. Bulldog, who had thought it was a transformer blowing up and heard a buzzing sound, said that he stood out on the lawn with a hose to keep the flames at bay. It took 15 minutes for the fire to reach just feet from the lawn, Bulldog said.
Rax Prendez, who lives with the Heins, pointed out the telephone pole connecting the house was still smoldering. Small flames still licked the top of the pole, coming out of the electrics. At one point, the pole swayed, the line threatening to fall to the lawn.
By 2:22 p.m. the fire had been contained, Cordero said, and no structures were damaged. It had affected an intersection of four power lines, he was told by PG&E, and surrounding areas suffered temporary power loss while the power company isolated the main line affected.
PG&E crews restored power to most customers by approximately 2:30 p.m. on Thursday although a few did not have power until early Friday morning.
PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said that while a transformer did fail, it did so because of an internal failure and was not the source of the noise that many area residents heard.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mike Webb said no one was hurt in the fire and the biggest problem was dealing with the live wires they had to work around.
“We’re having a record early fire season,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of small fires already, most of them escaped control burns. People need to be sure fires are completely out. The window is almost closed for any kind of control burn because we seem to have gone directly from winter to summer. People should think twice before doing a control burn and monitor it carefully. Make sure it is completely out before walking away.”
Incident commander Cordero said it only took 45 to 60 minutes to contain the fire. He said the response time was so quick because units were already in the area after having responded to other emergencies.
El Dorado County Fire, Cal Fire and Diamond Springs Fire Department engines responded with a medic from Cameron Park.
Contributing to the story were Dawn Hodson, Cole Mayer and Wendy Schultz.