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Off and on again and again
Cause of fire, explosion at substation still unknown
Statesboro and Bulloch County residents experienced intermittent power outages Tuesday due to a fire at a Georgia Power substation. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Rolling blackouts throughout the day Tuesday disrupted business, caused traffic tie-ups and hampered normal daily living as electric company employees worked to repair damage to a substation caused by fire.

Statesboro firefighters responded to the substation off Veterans Memorial Parkway between Old Register Road and U.S. Highway 301 South shortly before 3 a.m., said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn.

“An early morning explosion and subsequent fire at a Georgia Power relay station … knocked out power to most of the southern part of the city, including Georgia Southern University,” he said. “Some Excelsior (Electric Membership Corporation) customers were also … affected by this outage.”

Greg Proctor, manager of member services for Excelsior EMC, said the blaze caused three EMC substations between Statesboro and Claxton to fail.

The transmission system that provides power to both companies is “jointly owned” by Georgia Power, Excelsior EMC and other electric membership corporations and municipalities, he said. The three EMC substations lost power shortly before 3 a.m., and power was restored to those substations by 5 a.m., he said.

The rolling blackouts — intermittent power outages — were intentional efforts to lessen the power load on the substations, as power had to be supplied to the damaged substation in an “alternate method” while repairs were conducted, he said.

Georgia Power area manager Tanzania Adams said consumers using power as usual for a summer day placed a burden on the compromised power supply.

Tests and investigations to determine the cause of the fire should be completed by the end of the week, she said.

Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams said firefighters arrived at the scene but had to wait for power company employees to “de-energize” live wires.

The explosion “sent material into the woods and field” surrounding the substation, which Statesboro firefighters were unable to access, he said. The Georgia Forestry Commission also responded and extinguished the fire.

“We do not know what happened,” Wynn said, regarding the cause of the fire. “The explosion and fire damaged a good portion of the metal structure” at the substation, he said.

Statesboro police and Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies were busy directing traffic at intersections in and around the city as traffic lights were disabled intermittently during the rolling, he said.

The outages also affected Bulloch County Schools, but Hayley G. Greene, the district’s public relations and marketing specialist, said schools were able to work through them with minimal disruption.

“Our schools are prepared to handle temporary outages,” she said in a statement. “We have backup generation to power emergency lighting and alarm systems and our cafeterias always have meal options like cereals for breakfast and sack lunches that don't require cooking. Also our teachers are prepared to teach with or without technology aids. If phone systems are affected, all of our schools are also equipped with 911 radio systems to reach local emergency personnel and administrators have cellular telephones to which calls can be routed.”

When the explosion occurred, Langston Chapel Elementary and Middle schools lost power, but it was restored before the school day began. Rolling blackouts ended at the schools by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Greene said.

“A special thank you to all the electric utility and public safety personnel who braved the heat, restored power, and kept people moving safely,” she said.

Adams with Georgia Power said the situation was resolved around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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