MADISON, WI — More than 11,000 customers are without power on what promises to be the hottest day of 2019 so far, after fires at two Madison Gas and Electric substations rocked the city at just after 7:30 a.m. Friday. No injuries had been reported as of just before 11 a.m.
According to Madison Gas and Electric, the fires occurred at substations containing equipment of MGE’s and American Transmission Company.
In a press conference led by Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway at just after 11 a.m., the mayor said city officials are working with MGE officials to determine how long it will be before power of restored. The mayor indicated Friday that they don’t know whether the power will be back in a matter of hours, or whether it will be days.
According to officials speaking during the press conference, the fires and explosions are affecting residents across the state, after the state’s computer system went down.
The power outages have rendered the state DMV’s services unavailable, as well as the state’s Department of Health Services and the DNR. The state’s automated court records system, CCAP, is also down. Gov. Tony Evers dismissed all non-essential state workers working downtown for the day as well.
“Our top prior at city is making sure that vulnerable populations are getting taking care of. We are checking in at every place with young people, seniors. We will deploy what we need to deploy to take care of people,” Rhodes-Conway said during a Friday morning press conference. “All of our critical systems have backups … police and fire operations are normal, so folks don’t need to be concerned about that.”
As of 10 a.m. Friday, the fires were out, and damage assessment will get underway. Officials with the power utility believe the fires were due to a mechanical issue. Plumes of dense, black smoke could be seen for miles as the flames eclipsed the height of both substation buildings.Outages extend from the west side of downtown’s Capitol Square to areas around the Yahara River. MGE officials have no estimated time of restoration, but said they will issue updates as soon as possible.
The Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, with offices in the downtown area, issued a public notice that they’re evacuating their offices due to the lack of power and extreme heat coming Friday: “Due to the extensive power outage in downtown Madison and the extreme temperatures forecast for today, and in accordance with direction from the Department of Administration, all DHS staff and the public should leave the Department of Health Services building locations at 1 West Wilson Street, 1400 East Washington Street, and 600 Williamson Street in Madison.”
Utility officials said they’ve got engineers working with representatives from the American Transmission Company and the Madison Fire Department to investigate the cause.
“Crews are working as quickly as possible to safely restore service. We have no reason to believe the cause of the fire is due to excessive usage from today’s high temperatures,” a spokesperson from MGE said in a statement Friday.
“Please avoid the area surrounding East Washington Avenue, East Main Street, South Livingston Street and South Blount Street,” MGE said in a statement. “MGE regrets any inconvenience and urges customers to seek indoor areas with air conditioning.”
The City of Madison Fire Department, which battled the blaze earlier Friday, issued the following updates:
UPDATE — 9:40 a.m.: East Washington Avenue has re-opened.
UPDATE — 9:00 a.m.: The fire on East Main Street is knocked down. Investigation continuing. No reports of injuries.