Cal is back after outage, explosion; investigations ongoing

Emergency personnel respond to an explosion and fire on the University of California in Berkeley, California, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The explosion apparently occurred in an electrical generator. Photo: David Yee

Emergency personnel respond to an explosion and fire on the University of California in Berkeley, California, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The explosion occured two hours after power went out across the whole campus. Photo: David Yee

Life at UC Berkeley is almost back to normal today, a day and a half after a complete power outage, followed by a two-story high explosion, prompted the complete emergency evacuation of the campus for the first time in living memory. Police said they are hopeful of finding the culprits whose theft of some high-voltage copper wire triggered the outage.

Full power has been restored to all academic and administrative buildings and classes are in session, according to Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof. Rented generators have been brought in to provide power to 11 buildings that have not yet been reconnected to the university’s main grid, he said.

The school is taking a precautionary approach to restoring power to some buildings.

“We are not going to reconnect the power to buildings whose systems are directly connected to the electrical fault until we have conducted a full assessment of the damage,” Mogulof said. “We don’t want to act prematurely and risk bringing down the system again.”

Outside contractors have been engaged to assess the electrical systems and make repairs.

The power outage, which happened at 4:30 p.m. on Monday Sept. 30, just as many classes were winding down at the university, was caused by the theft of some high-voltage copper wire which was in an underground vault located within a mile of the main campus on university property. It is not clear whether the explosion, which happened two hours later at 6:30 p.m., was directly connected to the power outage, Mogulof said.

UCPD Lieutenant Eric Tejada said the police have been investigating the theft since they received the initial report about it on Sept. 17. They have collected fingerprints and DNA samples from the scene of the crime and are “hopeful about being able to identify the suspect,” he said.

Thefts of copper and brass from university property have been an ongoing problem for a while, Tejada said . “They take brass plates and even the flushing mechanisms in bathrooms,” he said.

The explosion, which blew a cover off a manhole, occurred outside the window of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ office on the south side of California Hall near Durant Hall. The chancellor was not in his office at time, according to Mogulof. One person — a student — was injured as a result and taken to hospital. They were subsequently released. Three other people who sustained minor injuries did not ask for assistance, said Mogulof.

The university administration feels fortunate that the injuries that resulted from the incident were minor, Mogulof said. “It could have been much worse.”

Related:
Cal campus reels from power outage caused by thieves (09.30.13)
Live blog: Cal explosion sends 1 to hospital, clears campus (09.30.13)

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  • Moriah

    Thank you, Berkeleyside. So often, news outlets are quick to tell us when there’s a problem — whether a recalled product, an outbreak, an evacuation, etc. — and we never hear when things are safe again. This story is much appreciated, and is one of many examples of Berkeleyside’s excellence.

  • Thanasis

    +1 !!