The last blast of winter resulted in some anxious moments in Virden on Monday afternoon.
At approximately 5:25 p.m. a hydro pole caught fire in front of the condominium complex on Bridge Street, knocking down live power lines and leaving the transformer hanging precariously above the building.
Wallace District Fire Department (WDFD) personnel responded to the 911 call, keeping people out of harm’s way until Manitoba Hydro crews arrived.
A second call within half an hour had firefighters scurrying downtown, where they found a pole ablaze at the rear of the Custom Creations building on Seventh Avenue. The resulting outage left a significant portion of the downtown area in darkness, and rendered the traffic signals at the Seventh Avenue and Nelson Street intersection inoperable.
“Our role was to was to stop traffic in the area, and make sure nobody got close in case the equipment and lines were still energized,” said WDFD Captain Ky Tough. “This pole (on Seventh Avenue) we were able to put out right away, however with the one on Bridge Street we had to make sure everyone was clear of that area until Hydro was on scene to de-energize the line.”
Businesses along the service road adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway had their power interrupted during the evening, and the signals at the King Street intersection were also knocked out.
Manitoba Hydro spokesman Riley McDonald reported that the outage affected 724 customers, and that repairs took several hours to complete.
“The outage was first reported around 5:20 p.m. and we restored everybody as of 9:45,” he said.
McDonald said that pole fires are a regular occurrence around this time of year.
“Pole fires are super common in the spring because dust, dirt, grime and often salt build up on the insulators. Often made of porcelain, they are meant to be non-conductive and when things build up on them, they become conductive and can either cause an arc or they can heat up and that heat will start a fire on the pole.”
McDonald said that the utility is prepared to deal with outages such as this while front-line employees, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are on strike.
“We have contingency plans in place to ensure outages are restored as safely as possible,” he said.