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Breaker blows: Sellwood plunged into darkness

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - The first-arriving PGE crew shines a light up at a suspected high-voltage feeder line taken out, when a transformer electrical breaker blew in south Sellwood. Sellwood residents near S.E. 13th Avenue and Linn Street were treated to a brief and unofficial fireworks show – just before the neighborhood went dark, at 9:45 pm on Monday evening, July 7.

“I heard a huge explosion, and saw a brilliant flash of blue light,” said Eloise Reed, who was by then standing with a group of friends looking at the block-long Portland General Electric (PGE) electrical substation.

“It was like a bomb going off,” Reed told THE BEE. “Then, all the lights went out – even the street lamps.”

On this warm summer evening, many neighbors were in the streets, mostly equipped with flashlights, after their homes were plunged into inky darkness.

Because so many people reported sing a brilliant flash and fire at the substation, 9-1-1 operators had dispatched Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 20 to the scene. But, when they arrived, the firefighters found no fire – only a dark neighborhood.

When THE BEE arrived, one PGE “Eagle Crew” was at the gates of the substation. Within minutes a caravan of electric company trucks was rolling into the station’s yard.

Electrical power was off as far east as S.E. Harney Drive and Johnson Creek Boulevard, but the power failure didn’t extend north of S.E. Bybee Boulevard in Westmoreland.

“About 6,700 PGE customers were affected, at the height of the outage,” PGE Corporate Communications staff member Steven Corson told us the following day.

“The sound and flash was associated with failure of a circuit breaker on a transformer at the substation,” Corson revealed. “Power was restored to all customers by around 2:30 am later that night.”

The blown breaker damaged one of the high-voltage “feeder” lines being served from that substation, Corson said. “Power to customers served by that feeder was rerouted from another source; customers will remain unaffected by the subsequent repair process. Other feeders served by the substation were not affected.”

Squirrels have lately caused more than one power outage in Washington County recently, by inadvertently shorting out a power transformer; it remains unknown whether or not a hapless squirrel was to blame for this one.