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Underground fire kills utility worker, causes outage in downtown Phoenix

(KTAR News Photo/Jim Cross)

PHOENIX – An underground fire killed a utility worker and injured another in downtown Phoenix late Sunday night, causing a power outage expected to impact the area for days.

Fire Capt. Rob McDade said a blast in an Arizona Public Service electrical vault at First Avenue and Washington Street erupted around 10:35 p.m. Flames were shooting out a manhole when firefighters arrived.

Rick Castillo, an electrician with the utility company for 12 years, was killed in the accident, APS said.

Rick Castillo (Family Photo)

The injured worker, who wasn’t identified, suffered burns to his face and hands and was taken to a hospital in stable condition.

They had been performing scheduled maintenance on equipment that provides power to the area.

APS expressed sorrow for the loss of life and injury in a statement released Monday morning and said the cause of the accident would be investigated.

“Our focus is on the safety of those actively working the scene, the well-being of these employees’ co-workers and families and restoring power safely and quickly once repairs can begin,” the statement read.

Power outages affected nearby buildings and three light rail stations were closed Monday: First Avenue at Van Buren Street; First Avenue at Jefferson Street; and Third Street at Jefferson Street.

The stations remained closed for hours, reopening shortly after 1 p.m.

Authorities shut down First Avenue from Monroe to Washington streets; Washington from Central to First avenues; and Adams Street from First to Second avenues.

McDade said there was “a tremendous amount of fire” coming out of the manhole.

“We trained with APS for this (scenario),” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Other APS employees had to de-energize the vault before firefighters could begin their work. Water was not an option yet. Firefighters initially attacked the fire with used dry chemicals extinguishers.

Wells Fargo, the Phoenix Municipal Building, the Maricopa County Administration Building and Phoenix Civic Plaza South all were without power.

“Power should be restored to three of these customers within the next 48 hours,” APS said in a Monday afternoon statement. “The Wells Fargo tower may be without power for a longer period of time. We are working with all four customers to consider all options, including on-site generators.”

The Phoenix City Council said it will hold Tuesday’s policy and formal meetings at the Orpheum Theatre because the outage is affecting council chambers.

The court canceled all business for the day.

Several other buildings, including the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, had partial power Monday.

APS said electricity to more buildings could be disrupted throughout the day.

An unidentified woman who works for Wells Fargo said the bank’s internal emergency notification system alerted her to the power issue by cellphone.

She came downtown – by bus – anyway.

“I’ll just sit and have coffee. I’ll go to work when the power comes on,” she said.

Monday’s high temperature in Phoenix was 110 degrees.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross contributed to this report.

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