Underground Vault Explosion Kills One Worker, Injures Another and Cuts Power to Phoenix High-Rise Buildings

Underground Vault Explosion Kills One Worker, Injures Another and Cuts Power to Phoenix High-Rise Buildings
One APS worker is dead after an explosion sent flames shooting out of a manhole in downtown Phoenix late Sunday night. (AZ Family)

PHOENIX (AP) — A fire in an underground utility vault killed one worker, injured a second and cut power to numerous high-rise buildings Monday in downtown Phoenix, possibly for a few days, authorities said.

The explosion happened Sunday night while two workers for Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility, were doing maintenance work, the utility said.

Power was cut to the four major buildings downtown, including the main Maricopa County administration building. About 1,000 workers had to either take Monday off or work from home, county spokesman Fields Moseley said. Several other buildings had only partial power through the day, and light rail was running with delayed service.

Trials and hearings at the Maricopa County Superior Court complex were cancelled Monday but scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Courts spokesman Bryan Bouchard said the building had power but officials acted because of power outages in nearby buildings and traffic issues.

Phoenix Police identified the worker who died as Ricardo Castillo, known to his co-workers as Rico. The 12-year APS electrician was a husband, father, son and grandfather and worked in youth and men's ministry at his church, APS said.

Phoenix station FOX 10 (KSAZ-TV) reported that Castillo would have celebrated his 42nd birthday on Monday. He was a member of the Grace Walk Church in Phoenix.

APS spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said the utility was working to determine if there were ways to get temporary power to the four major buildings affected until permanent repairs are made.

"But it could be a few days until power is restored," she said.

Besides the main county building, APS reported that power was also completely off at the Wells Fargo Tower, Phoenix Municipal Building and Phoenix Civic Plaza South, which is the south building of the convention center.

All but the Wells Fargo building should have power restored within 48 hours, the utility said late Monday. It will take longer to get power to the Wells Fargo building.

The Sheraton Hotel and other buildings had only partial power.

The fire broke out while Castillo and a second worker were replacing a power cable in the underground vault, APS said. An electrical flash triggered a fire.

The utility and state workplace safety officials will investigate the cause.

Phoenix officials moved a planned Tuesday City Council meeting to the nearby Orpheum Theatre because City Hall was without power.

The locations that lost all power were scattered throughout downtown because of the way electricity is fed to the area, Trevino said. The underground vault was fed with 1½ inch cables that distribute power, and many buildings have more than one feed, explaining why some only partially lost power.

A Phoenix Fire Department spokesman, Capt. Rob McDade, said the electric vault caught fire just after 10:30 p.m. Sunday. One worker was out of the vault when crews arrived to find flames shooting out of a manhole. Phoenix police said the 46-year-old man had burns on his hands and face and was taken to a burn center for treatment. He was later released.

Castillo was still underground, and firefighters had to wait until the utility was able to cut power to battle the fire and confirm he had been killed.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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