Mountain View Voice

News - January 20, 2012

Downed high-voltage lines sparks fire

by Nick Veronin

Residents of a Mountain View mobile home park near Moffett Field were roused by a series of small "explosions," flashes of bright light and flames shooting high into the air the result of downed high-voltage electrical transmission lines, according to a PG&E official.

Three lines came down near the Microsoft campus off of La Avenida Street at about 9:23 p.m. on Jan. 12, according to PG&E spokeswoman Monica Tell.

The downed lines, which were carrying roughly 115 kilovolts each (and are orders of magnitudes more powerful than neighborhood electrical distribution lines) caused a brush fire and resulted in 372 PG&E customers losing power, Tell said.

The fire department put the fire out in short order and power was restored by 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 13.

Though there was no property damage, one of the park's residents was taken to a local hospital for smoke inhalation from flaming foliage, according to Jaime Garrett, a spokeswoman for the Mountain View Fire Department.

Doris Duran, who lives in the Santiago Villa Mobile Home Park with her husband, Chuck, had recently gotten into bed when she first heard what she called a "poof — like a little explosion — and I saw a flash through the sky. I thought they were having fireworks over at the amphitheater."

Duran said she heard a second "poof" about a minute later, followed by another flash of light. After the second small explosion — which she said "wasn't very loud" or forceful enough to be felt — she looked out her window and saw flames shooting up near the south end of her mobile home park. She and her husband agreed that the flames stretched "a couple hundred feet" into the sky.

Duran said she and her husband live on the opposite side of the trailer park from where the fire occurred and that neither of them ever felt like they were in danger.

Tell said the lines fell after a piece of hardware, known as an "insulator," failed.

The insulator — a series of descending ceramic disks — is the point at which a power line connects to a given transmission tower, she explained. In this incident, the uppermost insulator failed, causing the top line to fall into to the two lower lines.

A portion of Stevens Creek Trail between the Crittenden and La Avenida entrances was temporarily closed to the public while crews cleaned up damage from the downed lines, police said.

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