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Hydro workers contend with vault fire, lightning

Jul 14 2012

A 10-metre fireball that shot up into the night sky just before midnight Thursday did not cause any injuries, according to the Victoria Fire Department.

Firefighters responded to a call about a tree on fire across the street from Ulla restaurant at 509 Fisgard St. A citizen had reportedly already used a fire extinguisher to attack the flames.

One person said she was in the area at the time.

"We did talk to a witness who said she heard a loud explosion from a short distance behind her," said Victoria Police Const. Mike Russell.

Firefighters quickly discovered that the fire and smoke were coming from an underground electrical vault.

Acting battalion chief Dave Bicknell said the vault was in the middle of the sidewalk on the north side of Fisgard, about 20 metres from the intersection with Store Street.

Firefighters forced open the lid of the vault and flooded the space with carbon dioxide from portable extinguishers, he said. A thermal imaging camera showed the subterranean electrical system was beginning to cool down.

Both the city's public works department and B.C. Hydro were called to the scene. The area of the vault fire was cordoned off with safety tape to protect the public, Bicknell said.

The fire is under investigation.

"It is very fortunate that no one was walking by at that time, as witnesses to the original explosion state that fire and smoke was seen surging to a height of 20 to 30 feet into the night sky," Bicknell said in a statement. "It would have certainly delivered a serious injury to any pedestrians in the immediate area."

The vault fire was followed by apparently unrelated power outages Friday morning, most caused by a lightning storm.

B.C. Hydro spokesman Ted Olynyk said power outages on Pender Island were the result of lightning strikes and fallen trees.

Other outages in Oak Bay and Victoria may have been wind-and storm related but remained under investigation. A power outage in Esquimalt was attributed to a cable fault, while one in Campbell River was due to a bird making contact with wires.

Power outages were reported at about 450 homes on southern Vancouver Island on Friday evening. Most were attributed to lightning, but no cause had been found by mid-evening for the largest outage, which affected 319 homes in Saanich. All were expected to be restored by early this morning.

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