San Francisco (SFGATE) – A massive blackout likely caused by a fire at a PG&E substation swept through San Francisco on Friday, darkening homes and businesses for hours, shutting down a subway station and all the cable cars, and knocking out streetlights across a wide swath of the city.
The power outage, which at its height affected 88,000 customers, struck just after 9 a.m. when a fire erupted at a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. depot at Larkin and Eddy streets.
A catastrophic failure of a circuit breaker ignited insulation, causing a fire and explosion, said Barry Anderson, a PG&E vice president. The substation was already scheduled for an overhaul, he said, which is expected to be completed by the fall of 2018.
The outage was “from old equipment,” Anderson said. “The equipment failed before we could get to the upgrade.”
The San Francisco Fire Department responded to more than 100 calls for service in the Financial District and beyond, including 20 elevators with people stuck inside, but reported no injuries. Everywhere, sirens blared as engines maneuvered along streets jammed with traffic.
About 300 traffic lights were out — about a quarter of those across the city — and as a result cars backed up on downtown streets as drivers stewed and honked at each other. More than 100 parking control officers as well as police officers were deployed to control traffic through intersections.
BART’s Montgomery Station was closed for more than two hours, with trains running through the station without stopping, before the agency reopened by using generators just after 11:30 a.m. Still, elevators and escalators weren’t working.
All cable cars were down, as were several Muni bus lines that typically run on electricity from overhead wires, including the 30, 45, 22, and 24. Shuttles were put in place to provide service, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency.
Muni trains, however, were still running both underground and above ground, though delays were expected due to the extensive problems with traffic lights. The subway stop at Montgomery Street was closed, with Muni trains — like BART trains — running through without stopping.
Nineteen schools in San Francisco were struck by the outage, including Spring Valley Science School, Sutro Elementary, Civic Center Secondary School, Alamo Elementary, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology and Cobb Elementary.