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Pepco Sends Georgetown Cable Involved in Sunday Fire for Extensive Forensic Testing

For Immediate Release
June 5, 2000

Cables involved in the underground fire in Georgetown early Sunday, June 4, have been removed and tagged in preparation for extensive examination by forensic experts. The fire in a manhole on M Street and Thomas Jefferson Place at 7:30 a.m. Sunday left 1,900 customers without power for most of that day. Most customers were restored by 7 p.m., and by 6 am Monday all but one of the six feeders were back in service and all customers had the use of power without restrictions.

In March of this year, the company announced its Manhole Corrective Plan that included expanded inspections (10,000 per year) and research into new vented manhole covers to replace the existing ones in selected areas. Pepco announced that the manhole that became dislodged from a fire had been inspected within the last two months.

"Our initial investigation shows that the fire occurred in a 40-foot stretch of underground cable between a traditional manhole and a vented grate," said Bill Gausman, Pepco General Manager of Power Distribution. He explained that this event was completely different in physical effects from the February Georgetown event that caused slow smoldering fire and the build up of gases. This eventually resulted in a powerful explosion that blew off several manhole covers and shattered windows in several buildings.

"We remain committed to our corrective plan of inspections of equipment in our manholes," he said. "And while they help us find obvious problems, they have their limitations as this situation demonstrates."

"Preventing underground fires has been a challenge for all utility companies that have extensive underground network systems for decades," he added. "Our underground system compares very favorably in terms of reliability to other 'urban' systems across the country. And unlike other utilities that repair cables after-the-fact, we have had this proactive inspection program in place for 15 months."

Gausman said, "While our underground network system is extremely reliable, fires can continue to happen despite our best efforts. We are working to mitigate the problems that may arise from such fires with different manhole cover designs. This effort is still in progress."

Gausman today demonstrated new designs of two manhole covers that will be sent to a special research facility in Massachusetts run by the Electric Power Research Institute. There, explosions will be simulated using several new manhole cover designs.

Point of Contact:
Nancy Moses

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