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2011-07-31 / Front Page

Power outage darkens parts of Lapeer

Downed electric line triggers fires, chain reaction Thursday
BY PHIL FOLEY 810-452-2616  pfoley@mihomepaper.com


A grass fire was started Thursday afternoon outside the DTE Energy substation on Imlay City Road (across from Walmart) following an electrical explosion at the Lapeer facility. 
Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER A grass fire was started Thursday afternoon outside the DTE Energy substation on Imlay City Road (across from Walmart) following an electrical explosion at the Lapeer facility. Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER LAPEER — A series of events, possibly related, left some 1,700 DTE customers in Lapeer without power Thursday and Friday.

A DTE spokesman said 317 customers along McCormick Drive and South Saginaw Street lost power around 2 p.m. Thursday and utility crews were forced to cut power to another 954 customers around 9:30 p.m. that evening in order to make repairs.

The equipment failures left about 25 percent of the city without power.

Lapeer Fire & Rescue Chief Terry Kluge said his crews were called to DeMille Road near Mott Community College at 2 p.m. after reports of a downed power line across the road. Kluge said firefighters found a high-voltage power pole burnt off above a transformer and power lines draped across the street. “Maybe it was a lightning strike the night before. We have no clue,” he said.

Over the next hour, said Kluge, his department received reports of a blown fuse in front of Merollis Used Cars Sales & Service on West Genesee Street, a failed transformer on McCormick Street and burning power lines at Court and Law streets.

At 3:30 p.m. a piece of distribution equipment at the DTE substation on East Genesee Street across the street from Advance Auto and the Walmart store exploded sending a fireball into the sky. Lapeer Police Dept. Lt. Dave Frisch drove up to the auto parts store moments after the initial explosion and said he could see some bright blue arcing and smoke coming from the gray metal structure across the street.

Bob McCormick, DTE’s general supervisor for substation operations in the area, said the distribution device, similar to a circuit breaker panel at home, failed when a 13,000-volt line leading to the substation burned through and fell into a 4,800-volt line.


A Lapeer Fire & Rescue firefighter uses a hand-held extinguisher to put out a small grass fire that was started Thursday afternoon outside a DTE Energy substation on Imlay City Road. 
Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER A Lapeer Fire & Rescue firefighter uses a hand-held extinguisher to put out a small grass fire that was started Thursday afternoon outside a DTE Energy substation on Imlay City Road. Photo by JACOB HUNSANGER The failed lines started a small grass fire behind the substation, which has been serving Lapeer since 1935. It also created a power surge that super heated some copper components inside the distribution equipment, resulting in an explosion that blew a door off and hurled it across the substation yard.

A DTE employee happened to be standing on the opposite side of the equipment when it exploded, but was uninjured.

The initial failure cut power to 317 residential and industrial customers along McCormick Drive and South Saginaw Street. However at 9 p.m., DTE crews came to the conclusion that to safely repair the substation they would have to cut power to another 954 customers running from Bowers Road almost to Farnsworth back to nearly the corner of Lincoln and West Genesee streets and from just north of Genesee Street to about Union Street on the north side of the city.

Another strip of customers along Genesee Street between Cramton Park and Saginaw Street brought the total DTE customers without power to 1,700.

About 5 p.m., said Kluge, another residential transformer caught fire on East Oregon Street. “We don’t know what caused any of it,” he said.

While most downtown businesses were closed Friday due to the power outage, City Hall, the Dept. of Public Works and Riverview Towers, the city-owned senior apartments were operating on generator power. By mid-day, Pam Reid, the city’s DPW director, said five of the city’s 11 traffic signals were being powered by generators and power had been restored to the rest.

While many downtown businesses were without power Friday, the Kroger store on South Main and the Meijer store on DeMille Road, as well as Dort Federal Credit, had electrical power restored earlier that morning. Meijer, a 24-hour operation, was able to keep its doors open Thursday thanks to a backup generator system.

At the Lapeer County complex a spokesman said court was in session, but the building’s elevators and air conditioning units were out. Although the courthouse has an emergency generator, the county annex, which houses senior citizens programs and the veterans affairs office, along with the registrar of deeds office do not and they were closed for the day.

McCormick, who is responsible for DTE substation operations from 14 Mile Road in Oakland County north to Port Austin, said this summer’s hot weather has put a strain on equipment. He said that while the substation itself on East Genesee was built in 1935, the distribution equipment was installed in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s.

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