Widespread power outages hit thousands in Warren County

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Penelec’s John Elmquist disconnects power to a line along Main Avenue in Warren that fell, broke, and caught fire Thursday afternoon.

A circuit breaker failure at Penelec’s Warren substation resulted in more than 6,000 customers in the Warren area being without power for several hours Wednesday.

“A circuit breaker, much like a breaker in your house or apartment, failed in one of our major substations in the Warren area at about 2:10 p.m. this afternoon,” Scott Surgeoner, FirstEnergy spokesman, told the Times Observer. “That is causing an outage to approximately 6,000 to 7,000 customers in Warren and the surrounding area.”

The breaker was located at the substation on Pennsylvania Avenue at Eddy Street. A witness to the fireball from the failure said it was as big as a house.

Surgeoner said that crews are “working to switch those… customers to other circuits in the area (that are) fed by different substations. That process is very involved and detailed and will result in some extended outages.”

He said those outages could last “hours.”

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry City of Warren Police Officer A.J. Foriska directs traffic at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Hickory Street during a power outage Wednesday afternoon.

At 5:15 p.m., Penelec was reporting as many as 1,100 customers out from the Warren substation area and up to another 500 from the Starbrick substation.

Also at that time, power had been restored to downtown traffic signals, including the one at Pennsylvania Avenue and Hickory Street.

During an outage, an intersection that is usually governed by a traffic signal becomes an all-way stop.

City of Warren Police directed traffic at the intersection shortly after the outage began and until stop signs were put up at all of the corners by City of Warren Department of Public Works.

A down wire in the area of Main Avenue knocked out power to additional customers.

An insulated wire broke apart, according to Line Supervisor Mike Toter.

Neighbors reported seeing a large fire at the location. An area of a lawn where the wire touched down was churned up and charred. The broken end of the wire appeared melted.

Traffic between Wayne and Biddle streets was closed down until power to the wire could be cut.

Penelec Troubleman John Elmquist did that work shortly after 2 p.m.

“That will isolate this piece of line,” Toter said. “We always try to restore as many customers as possible.”

But, even with that step taken, the wire could not be declared safe, according to Toter. Penelec cordoned off the sidewalk near the downed wire.

There was still the possibility of some power flowing through that wire. “You never want to go near it until it’s tested and grounded,” Toter said.

In the case of the Main Avenue line, Warren General Hospital’s generators could push power back up the line — backfeed — creating a potentially dangerous current, he said.

A crew was at the Main Avenue scene before 3 p.m., but there were some delays in completing that repair due to the substation outage.

Surgeoner said that incident was separate from the substation issue.