Fire In Underground Vault Causes Outage, Restricts Downtown Stre - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

Fire In Underground Vault Causes Outage, Restricts Downtown Streets

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Several streets in downtown Columbus are restricted following a fire at an underground AEP vault early Friday morning. Several streets in downtown Columbus are restricted following a fire at an underground AEP vault early Friday morning.

A fire in an underground vault belonging to American Electric Power caused a number of manhole covers to be blown open early Friday morning in the area of the Renaissance Hotel and Chase buildings in downtown Columbus.

Columbus police officers responded to the downtown area after receiving reports of two explosions in the downtown area at about 1:30 a.m. Friday. The first explosion was reported in the area of East Broad and North 4th streets, and a second explosion was reported at about 2:30 a.m.

According to AEP Ohio officials, the fire in the underground vault in the area of the Renaissance and Chase buildings caused an outage to several buildings in the downtown area. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was injured.

Crews responded to the vault at about 4:30 a.m. to begin restoring power. Crews working to repair the equipment in the vault reported finding additional issues. All power was restored by 12:30 p.m., according to AEP.

NBC4 spoke to the president of AEP, who said the vault is in the same area as the water main that broke on Jan. 6. AEP is looking into whether or not the break played a role in the fire. Workers found water in the bottom of the vault.

After the water main break, salt was distributed on the roads to break up the ice that had formed as a result, making a soupy, salty mess that likely seeped into the utility vaults through cracks, and around the manholes.

The saltwater then gradually went to work on the pipes.

"If it corroded through and actually exposed any of the circuit, then what could have occurred is something like hydrolysis could have occurred where hydrogen and oxygen separated from the water, and that could have created a gas that may have been the source of what ignited," said AEP Ohio President Pablo Vegas.

Columbia Gas reported that their utilities were unaffected.  The Columbus Convention Center, the Riffe Center, the Rhodes and Capital buildings, and surrounding hotels were not affected. 

AEP says the downtown AEP building was one of the buildings without power. Employees in that building were told not report to work Friday morning.

The following buildings/businesses were closed or running on a delay due to the outage:
•    Miami-Jacobs Career College, located at 150 East Gay St. - CLOSED
•    AEP Headquarters, the One Riverside building - CLOSED
•    Nationwide building, located at 215 Front St. - DELAYED start until 11:00 a.m.
•    Memorial Hall, located at 280 E. Broad St. - will open at 12 p.m.
•    Momentive, located 180 E. Broad St. – CLOSED
•    Ohio Attorney General's Columbus Office location at 150 E. Gay St. - CLOSED
•    Ohio Health, 180 E. Broad St. -- work from home or another Ohio Health building
•    Southeast Healthcare located at 16 W. Long St. - DELAYED until 12 p.m.
•    Telhio Credit Union downtown offices and call centers - CLOSED
•    Southeast, Inc - CLOSED

Columbus police clarified that the following buildings experienced a temporary power outage: the Ohio Attorney General, the Ohio Health Administration Building, the Franklin County Board of Education, the Franklin County Office on Aging, the Franklin County Sanitary Engineer, the Borden Building, Ameritech, the Ohio Department of Health, Midland Mutual, Nationwide Insurance, the Federal Building, PUCO, DHS, AEP Headquarters, Telhio Credit Union, Miami-Jacobs Career College, Momentiv, Southeast Inc., and the YMCA Downtown.

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