Nova Scotia

Blown transformer blamed for widespread power outage, fire in downtown Halifax

Emergency services closed part of Barrington Street in downtown Halifax and more than 8,000 Nova Scotia Power customers in the south end lost electricity when a transformer in an underground vault exploded and caught fire Thursday evening.

Smoke wafted from sewer grates after transformer exploded in underground vault

Police blocked off part of Barrington Street so firefighters could deal with the situation. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Emergency services closed part of Barrington Street in downtown Halifax and more than 8,000 Nova Scotia Power customers in the south end lost electricity when a transformer in an underground vault exploded and caught fire Thursday evening.

Ola Legere, acting divisional commander with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, said the transformer caught fire after exploding, setting other materials in the vault in the 1600 block of Barrington Street ablaze.

He said firefighters weren't able to enter the vault until Nova Scotia Power took steps to ensure the safety of the fire crews.

Fire crews told people to leave the buildings on Barrington Street. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"We had to stand by … and wait until we could confirm that [the vault] was de-energized and grounded, which took a fair bit of time," he said. "Once it was safe, we made entry into the vault and extinguished the fire."

Barrington Street was closed between Sackville and Prince streets. A power outage caused by the explosion affected more than 8,500 customers at its peak, according to Nova Scotia Power's outage map.

People in the area described a slight tremor in the ground at the time of the explosion. A sewer grate popped off and smoke billowed from underground.

Tiffany Chase, spokesperson for Nova Scotia Power, said crews were working to switch some customers to a different feeder line to restore power. 

By 10 p.m., the number of customers affected had fallen to fewer than 1,000.

The final few customers were reconnected at around 5:30 a.m. on Friday.

People in the area said they could smell smoke and saw it drifting up through the sewer grates. Legere said that was a result of smoke from the fire in the vault travelling to neighbouring buildings.

"It migrated through the pipes into some of the buildings, through the electrical conduit, which set off some of the alarms as well," he said. 

By 9:30 p.m., Legere said the fire was considered under control.