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Power goes out across campus

The Hill 10/16/09 11:23 AM

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A power outage has blanketed the Medford/Somerville campus since late this morning after an underground cable failure caused an electrical fire in downtown Medford, affecting most of Medford and the university.

The fire began at approximately 10:30 a.m. this morning across from 127 Main St. in Medford, forcing a manhole cover to burst open in flames, according to Medford Fire Department Deputy Chief Edward O’Brien. The fire ran underground to other manholes, creating enough smoke to blow the cover off an additional manhole.
An underground electrical cable failed, causing damage to a cluster of cables nearby and sparking the fire, according to Deborah Drew, company spokesperson for National Grid, which is the utility company responsible for the area and the primary power supplier for the university.
“One of those cables was the feed for Tufts,” Drew told the Daily.
The fire interrupted power service for approximately 7,000 Medford residents. National Grid workers were able to restore power to about half of those affected by temporarily moving their power source to other feeds, Drew said. The other half, which includes the Tufts campus, will undergo a “rather lengthy” outage of 10 to 12 hours while workers make repairs to the cable.
Drew said that National Grid hoped to restore power to all customers around midnight, but recent university alerts anticipate that power is not likely to be restored until 2 a.m. at the earliest.
“Underground cable work is extremely dangerous and tedious and requires a special skill set,” Drew said. “We have our specialists on scene making repairs [and] doing what they can to get customers back as quickly as possible.”
Flames reached six to seven feet high out of the first manhole. Though the extent of the fire remained primarily confined to the originating manhole, firemen reporting to the scene found considerable smoke piling out from at least two additional manhole covers with smoke damage running along Main Street, O’Brien told the Daily this afternoon.
The city received no reports of civilian or firefighter injuries.
City officials evacuated the building at 101 Main St. across from the Medford Police Department. Emergency workers initially shut down Main Street and surrounding roads in Medford Square, but the city restored traffic late this afternoon to one lane heading south on Main Street, O’Brien said.
The Tufts campus has remained without power since the fire sparked this morning. The majority of Tufts’ buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus rely on National Grid, Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler said this afternoon. A limited number of buildings with external generators, including Ballou Hall and Barnum Hall, have power. A number of wood-framed houses in the vicinity of the university are on a different power feeder and were not affected by the outage.
University officials brought to campus at least two generators that are up and running and are working to obtain additional backup generators through vendors, Thurler said.
Carmichael Dining Hall closed this evening and meal service will only be available at Dewick-MacPhie Dining Hall. Both Carmichael and Dewick are expected to open tomorrow morning, Thurler said.
External generators have also restored full power and heat to several residence halls, including West, Carmichael and Stratton Halls and Richardson House. Gantcher Center, Halligan Hall, Cousens Gym and Jackson Gym also have heat and power, according to the university's Web site.
Fob systems to residence halls that remain without power are not working. Staff from the Department of Public Safety and Residential Assistants are stationed at the front door to ensure students can gain access.
The outage comes at an inopportune time for Tufts; Parents Weekend began today and is scheduled to last through the weekend.
All athletic and admissions activities are scheduled to continue as planned through the weekend. Thurler said most Parents Weekend programming scheduled for today, involving mainly lectures, proceeded as planned, and university administrators expect to continue with programs throughout the weekend, though some of the locations may have to change.
--Alexandra Bogus



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