A power outage caused by a hot fire in an underground transformer vault blacked out about half of downtown Palo Alto about 9 p.m. tonight, affecting numerous patrons of restaurants and bars.
The electrical fire in a main underground transformer vault fused wiring and destroyed the contents in a hot fire that took firefighters a significant time to quell -- and then only with the help of a brand-new piece of equipment, a "CO2 trailer" just purchased in late February.
"It will be down for quite awhile," Battalion Chief Ron Bonfiglio said of the power due to the extent of damage in the vault.
Bonfiglio said someone called in the fire at 9 p.m. or shortly after, and Acting Captain Mark BonAppen responded with a fire engine crew, assessed the damage and called Bonfiglio to bring the new CO2 trailer from Station 6 on the Stanford Campus.
The small trailer, about 6 feet by 6 feet, contains six large CO2 cylinders, "and we used four of them to fight this fire," Bonfiglio said.
The transformer vault is located on Bryant Street midway between University and Lytton avenues, across the street from the Avenidas Senior Center.
Bonfiglio said a Utilities worker said the cause of the fire was some type of power surge, but that lightning almost certainly could not have caused it.
He said normally the department keeps a stash of standard CO2 fire extinguishers on hand and borrows others when needed from various stations.
"But I don't think we'd have had enough extinguishers to put this one out," he said.