Sunday, August 11, 1996
By Carolene Langie
The Associated Press
A power outage struck parts of at least nine Western states on a
sweltering Saturday, knocking out air conditioners and traffic
signals for millions from Oregon to San Diego and as far east as
According to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP)
officials, 42 percent of the city Â about 575,000 customers
Â were without power until about 5:30 p.m. Saturday
"Even though the UCLA campus has its own cogeneration unit, it’s
still tied into the utility system," said Ed Freudenburg, spokesman
for the DWP.
Freudenberg said that many of the transmission lines that
connects Los Angeles to the generating stations went down, creating
a drain on those still connected to the system.
"What occurred when many of these transmission lines were taken
out of service was that we had too little electricity for the
amount of customer demand in Los Angeles.
"An automatic computer shuts down parts of the system to
equalize the amount of power available, and that’s why parts of the
city went dark," he said.
Lights flickered at the San Diego site of the Republican
National Convention, which was otherwise unaffected. But a third of
the city was without power Â 500,000 customers Â and some
arriving delegates found themselves stuck in hotel elevators.
Traffic snarled due to signals without power and shopping malls
closed. The Los Angeles Police Department was on tactical alert,
keeping all officers on duty.
At Los Angeles International Airport, flights continued on
schedule with the help of emergency generators. UCLA Medical Center
and other area hospitals were either unaffected by the outage or
ran on generators until power was restored.
The outage that struck the utility grid linking power systems
across the West began shortly before 4 p.m., on a day when much of
the region had temperatures over 100 degrees.
The loss of service appeared to be intermittent, however,
affecting some areas with others getting power back quickly. It was
the second widespread outage to hit the West in as many months.
In the San Fernando Valley, where more than 1 million people
live, power was on at some homes while nearby stoplights were
Meanwhile, reports of power outages stretched from Portland,
Ore., and San Francisco, south to Riverside, Calif., and San Diego.
In the region’s interior, outages were reported in Las Vegas,
Albuquerque, N.M., Phoenix, Boise, Idaho, and El Paso, Texas. Even
some parts of neighboring Mexico and Canada reported effects.
California Gov. Pete Wilson late Saturday added Colorado and
Washington to the list of states affected by the outage. Officials
in those states reported a momentary dimming of the lights in some
Other states affected were Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon,
Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.
"At this point we have no information as to what the cause was,"
said Los Angeles Water and Power spokeswoman Maureen Palmer. "We do
know it was something that happened in the Pacific Northwest. I
have heard some speculation that it was a fire … but it could be
a number of things."
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which had about half its 4.5
million customers in Northern California affected, said there was a
"frequency disruption" in the Pacific Interconnect, a 500,000 volt
electric grid that runs from Canada to the Mexican border. The
disruption knocked out three of the utility’s plants.
"When this occurred, they had unusually high demand for a
weekend day because of the heat wave," said PG&E spokesman
Individual utilities were forced to disconnect from the grid and
get power from their own backup generators, said Trish Edmunds,
spokeswoman for Southern California Edison, which serves 4.5
Dulcy Mahar, a spokeswoman for the Bonneville Power
Administration in Portland, Ore., offered a possible explanation,
saying the outage could have been triggered by a fire in Northern
California that knocked out a major power line to the state.
"I believe it was a brush fire but that can’t be confirmed," she
said, noting there was a fire near Malin, Ore., just north of the
In Orange County, emergency personnel went on a massive
"We’re responding in what amounts to our earthquake mode," said
fire Capt. Dan Young. "We certainly have had an increase in traffic
collisions, since you’ve got thousands of signals with no control
Outages were also reported across the midsection of California
on the hottest day of the year in the region, with temperatures
hitting 100 in Bakersfield.
"The weather is a major factor in this power outage even if it
was not weather-caused," said San Francisco Bay meteorologist Mike
Pechner. "The whole Interstate-5 corridor (connecting northern and
southern California) is sizzling."
San Francisco police were dispatched to calls of people stuck in
elevators. And the city’s airport was on emergency generators,
which supply only about 25 percent of the power needed.
"We still have no power for things like security checkpoints,
computer systems and lighting in the building," said Bob Schneider,
the airport’s duty manager. "At this point we’re pretty much out of
That was not the case at the Camel Rock Casino, about 10 miles
north of Santa Fe, where maintenance supervisor Chris Romero said
he "kicked on our generator."
"It’s a good thing we’ve got it," he said. "I think we’d have a
lot of unhappy people if everything went black in here."
In Phoenix, more than 300,000 customers were without power, and
the Salt River Project utility was operating at about 60 percent of
Most of El Paso, Texas, in the southwest corner of the state
also lost power, but service was restored to the entire city within
a few hours.
In Idaho, sporadic power outages were reported in parts of Boise
and other cities when temperatures reached 95 to 100 degrees.
Customers waited up to two hours before power was restored.
In Canada, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported outages
in parts of Calgary, Alberta. CBC said it also went off the air
briefly in Edmonton.
The last major power disruption in the West came on July 2, when
an outage on an Idaho transmission line, combined with record power
demands during hot weather, caused a ripple effect that cut power
to 15 Western states and parts of Canada and Mexico. About 2
million people were affected.
With reports from John Digrado, Summer Bruin Senior Staff