LONG BEACH (CBSLA.com) — An electrical fire at a Southern California Edison vault knocked out power to thousands in downtown Long Beach and caused manhole covers to blow off in the area.
The incident unfolded at the corner of Third Street and Chestnut Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. Cellphone video captured firefighters battling the flames that shot up from the manhole cover as black smoke billowed from the underground fire.
Firefighters said the fire initially increased underground pressure that was causing manhole covers to pop off, but by 4:40 p.m., authorities said the threat has subsided.
Southern California Edison continued to work to restore power to the more than 4,000 customers who had lost electricity hours later. As of 10:25 p.m., power near the waterfront had been restored. SCE has not provided a timeline of when electricity would be fully restored.
“Long Beach Fire has been inundated with smoke alarms, fire alarms and other kinds of alarms because of the lack of power out here,” reported Sky 2’s Stu Mundel. “Also, a lot of people out here are stuck in elevators.”
Geoffrey Thompson, who lives in Long Beach and works in a 12-story building, says he saw firefighters working with an elevator technician.
“But managed to get the doors open wide enough for the fire department to get in to get a ladder down to the elevator to climb down and get the people out,” he said.
Most of downtown Long Beach, including normally busy restaurants, had to stop serving customers mid-meal.
“You can’t work the registers. You can’t bring in things. It’s better to just call it off,” said Mario Nasab, a business owner.
Firefighters say crews are monitoring vaults and are investigating the cause of the fire.
“There was some preliminary discussion that they may have been shifting that power to another grid and in the process of that shift, there may have been subsequent overload on that system,” Jake Heflin of the Long Beach Fire Department said.
Authorities closed Third Street between Cedar and Magnolia avenues to traffic. For updates, listen to KNX 1070 Newsradio.