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Senator Seeks Safety Analysis After Power Line Sparks Gas Fire

June 02, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

State Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the safety of overhead power lines in Oxnard's beach communities after a break in a 16,000-volt line this week touched off a spectacular natural-gas fire and knocked out power to more than 3,000 homes.

The Channel Islands Beach Community Services District urged Hart to take the action after authorities blamed the break in the Hollywood Beach line on salt contamination and stress from Memorial Day windstorms.

"We're being the conduit for local citizens expressing concerns about the safety of those wires," said Hart aide Beverly O'Gorman.

The PUC could require Southern California Edison, which supplies power to the area, to have the lines buried, O'Gorman said.

The seaside power lines have been an issue in Oxnard's beach communities, where some residents have objected to the cost of burying the lines. Channel Islands Beach Community Services District commissioners face recall in Tuesday's election over their support of Ventura County's creation of assessment districts to pay for underground lines.

Residents Evacuated From 3 Homes

Five people were evacuated from three houses threatened by the fire early Tuesday, but there were no injuries, said Oxnard Fire Department Capt. Jim Mullins. Two other houses in the path of the blaze were unoccupied vacation homes. The five houses sustained only smoke damage.

The explosive fire broke out at 3 a.m. when the line fell across three driveways in the 3300 block of Ocean Drive, damaging a pickup truck and igniting a car, Mullins said.

Power should have stopped flowing to the line when it broke, said Klaus Meister, Southern California Edison area manager. But it continued to carry electricity because the sand and concrete on which it fell acted as insulation, he said.

The electricity burned holes "as big as your fist" in the concrete and turned portions of the sandy soil to glass, Mullins said.

Mullins said high-voltage arcs from the line shot through the ground "like a lightning bolt" and melted a plastic gas main beneath one of the houses. Gas from the broken main seeped into cracks in the street and driveways, erupting in a fiery display that rocked the neighborhood.

"There were times when loud explosions sent burning material 100 feet in the sky," Mullins said. "It was like a Rambo movie."

Fire crews were powerless to extinguish the fire with water, which would have spread the flames, so they waited for crews from utility companies to turn off electricity and gas to the area, according to Mullins.

Edison customers in 3,580 households were left without power for about four hours. Power was restored to all but 150 houses by 7 a.m., with the remainder restored at 3 p.m., said Meister.

A separate wind-related break in an Oxnard Shores power line, which occurred earlier Tuesday morning, left 4,474 customers temporarily without electricity but did not result in damage, Meister said.

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