Who turned out the lights?
Approximately 75 percent of campus experienced a blackout Wednesday night when a power transformer in the campus grid caught fire, Associate Director of Facilities Management George Lewis said. Power went out at 9:03 after a capacitor bank switch in the top level of the campus power grid in lot 14 failed, creating a spark in one of the transformers, Edison employee John Hernandez said. The transformer exploded, showering the floor of the grid with oil and causing a campus-wide electricity outage. Most of campus lost normal power capacity including some emergency lighting and traffic signals.
Power was restored at approximately 11 p.m.
Three freshmen – Verity Somers, Cheryle Hankamer and Justine Hamilton-Parsons – were passing by the parking lot at the time of the outage.
“We were on our way to the gym on our bikes when we saw sparks, heard a loud bang or pop and then all the lights went off,” they said.
UCSB’s engine 17 responded to the reported grid fire; however, if there was a fire it burned out before the fire department arrived on the scene, UCPD Corporal Bowman said. Firefighters remained on scene until Edison employees announced that the situation was no longer hazardous.
“Our whole job here is to contain any fire involvement,” Engine 17 Fireman Gordan O’Neill said. “Sometimes these things have the tendency to startup again.”
UCPD also responded to the scene of the fire and provided traffic direction at campus intersections in place of the traffic lights and the Campus Security Officers patrolled the area of the explosion to keep passersby out of danger.
An Edison crew was nearby at the Storke Road housing construction site, but had used up its 32-hour work limit and had to call another crew to the scene, Jim Morrison, UCSB lead electrician, said. An Edison truck finally arrived at 10:10 p.m. and a second truck arrived at about 11 p.m. Edison workers planned to spend the entire night working on the site because of the amount of time needed for clean-up of the oil spill before they could begin the repairs.
“Edison needed to confirm that there were no bare wires or hazards of electrocution [before they could begin repairs],” Bowman said.
Edison employees inspected the site and tested the spilled oil, confirming the area was not hazardous.
People were trapped in elevators throughout campus for varying lengths of time. Campus Emergency Medical Technicians and Santa Barbara’s Fire Engine 11 responded to the elevator emergencies, checking the status of trapped victims. KONE Elevators and Escalators freed victims in San Miguel Hall, San Nicolas Hall and Davidson Library, and people in the MultiCultural Center and the Ucen freed themselves by prying open the elevator doors, O’Neill said.
San Nicolas Hall Assistant Resident Director Gina Ippolito said it took about 30 minutes for the fire dept. and elevator company to free the seven people trapped in the San Nicolas elevator.
Power in the Events Center went out for an hour and a half, suspending play in middle of the fourth game of the women’s volleyball team’s match against Pepperdine. The Gauchos lost three matches to one for their first loss of the year.
The men’s soccer match was halted for about 15 minutes when power went out in Harder Stadium toward the end of the second half of the game after the game-winning goal was scored. They won 4-2.
Power was also momentarily lost in Fire Station 17 until the backup generator kicked in and the emergency alarms went off.
Storke Communication Building lost all power for an hour and half, causing the aircraft warning lights to go out on Storke Tower, a major aeronautical safety hazard, the complete cessation of work in the La Cumbre yearbook office and KCSB offices and a delay in work at the Daily Nexus office. All buildings except Storke Communication Building had backup generators kick in within 20 seconds, Lewis said. By 11 p.m., 80 to 90 percent of campus was lit, he said.
KCSB is required by its FCC license to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In order to ensure transmission, KCSB has a generator to keep the station up and working during blackouts. When the lights went out, however, the back-up generator did not kick in, causing KCSB to go off air for nearly two hours in the middle of its annual fund-raising drive.
Research experiments in the numerous labs on campus was imperiled by the outage.
Masamitsu Fukuyama, a post doctorate in biological sciences with the Neuroscience Research Institute, was cultivating bacteria when the lights suddenly went out. She said the bacterial experiment was not on a back-up generator and her research could be damaged if power was not reintroduced quickly.
“We have a lot of biological material that is perishable,” she said. “I hope we get electricity [back] soon.”
In San Miguel a female student began playing the song from the “sinking’ scene in titanic in the Formal Lounge after the lights went out. She was then joined in song by a hallmate, Anthony Limnios, on the violin, entertaining about 20 students.
San Nicolas Hall Resident Director Seth Avakian said residents responded to the emergency well.
“People were really good about everything. They evacuated like they were supposed to,” he said. “Everyone is just hanging out like they’re camping.”