Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fire leaves Madison residents in dark twice

The downtown Madison area, including parts of the University of Wisconsin campus, became a bit darker Monday as a pair of power outages discharged the State Street neighborhood due to underground electrical fires.

Assistant Chief Jim Keiken of the Madison Fire Department said the outages affected the State Street neighborhood as well as the area around Broom Street and Wisconsin Avenue spreading to the Kohl Center area.

Steve Kraus, spokesperson for Madison Gas & Electric, the area's power utility, added that the Langdon Street area saw a power loss too, and both the afternoon and evening blackouts impacted the "exact same" neighborhood.


"It wasn't really a defined area," Kraus clarified. "[But], it was concentrated fairly close to State Street, on both sides of the street."

The power in the area flickered for several minutes shortly before 3 p.m. preceding the full power outage lasting approximately two hours. The second outage, beginning around 8:45, ended after 10:30, Kraus said.

He added that the outage affected more than 3,500 MGE customers and shut off all traffic lights in the area, causing significant traffic delays during the rush hour ride home.

Police blocked off several blocks of Johnson Street in the afternoon as utility workers pulled burnt wires and conduit from underground.

Though many students and shop owners in the State Street neighborhood saw and heard a fleet of fire engines respond to the fire, MGE did not need firefighters to put out the flames.

Keiken said shop owners called the Fire Department to report smoke in their basements around 2:45 p.m., which the assistant chief said was due to fumes from the underground fire filling the rooms through the electrical wires. No damage outside the utility tunnels was reported, Keiken added.

Smoke and flames shot out of manhole covers in the State Street area, notably where State and Johnson Streets intersect.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said manhole covers "exploded up" from their spots in the pavement both in the afternoon and at night.

Kraus added MGE did not know the cause of the underground fire and would not as of last night, because crews just "want to get the power back on."

Verveer said he heard reports that the power substation next to the South East Recreation Facility and the athletic fields on Murray Street was the origin of the fire. However, nothing is confirmed.

"We don't have a cause … and probably won't for a couple of days," Kraus said, adding that MGE stationed crews around the city to make sure the power would stay on. "It's hard to find [the cause] at night, too."

Many State Street business owners closed their doors several hours early and stood outside their shops watching traffic crawl and those on foot whip out cell phones to tell friends the city went dark. Many after-hours establishments and restaurants shut down early as well, including State Street Brats.

Paul Strong, co-owner of Jazzman, a clothing retailer on State Street, said he could not remember the last time this happened during his 25 years working at his store.
"The lights got dim, then the power went out and now we're done for the day," Strong said at about 4 p.m., joking afterward, "Good thing it was a Monday."

Students around the southeast residence halls also congregated outdoors. UW freshmen Jessica Grantman and Margaret Adelmeyer met each other outside Sellery Hall to share a cigarette shortly after MGE restored the downtown area's power. Both students said not having the ability to use technology was the worst part of the outage, especially because this is a popular week for midterms.

"I lost a paper I started for an exam," Adelmeyer said.

Grantman added that everybody met each other in the hall and "cursed" while Adelmeyer said some people got stuck in the elevator and "were screaming" during the power outage.

-Aubre Andrus contributed to this article.

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