A fire broke out Thursday morning, Nov. 9, at a Met-Ed substation in Lebanon city.

The fire took out power for thousands of city residents.

The fire started at the west Lebanon substation operated by the power utility company at 160 N. 16th St. Initial dispatch calls for the fire appeared to have been made shortly before 8:45 a.m. Thursday. FirstEnergy is the parent company of Met-Ed.

Video shared with LebTown by reader WilliE Shay.
Video shared with LebTown by reader WilliE Shay.

Some residents reported a brief outage before power was restored; others remained without power for an hour or two.

The number of customers without power may have been as high as 3,500 at one point, not all of whom were in Lebanon city, due to the interconnected nature of substations that transmit power to other substations as well as to customers directly. That number dropped throughout the morning and appeared to be near zero as of 10:30 a.m.

Lebanon resident Garry Lenton sent in this video of the conflagration.

A FirstEnergy spokesperson said that as of 10:15 a.m. Thursday, the fire was under control, although residents may still see flames and smoke as the decision was made to let the fire burn out rather than risk personnel by fighting it directly.

The immediate cause of the fire was a transformer that caught on fire, although it’s not yet clear what caused the transformer to ignite. The substation was proactively de-energized as city firefighters and a FirstEnergy crew stood on standby at the site to ensure that it burned out safely.

According to the spokesperson, customers should be restored in “one shape or another” later today, even in advance of the west Lebanon substation being able to come back online, as FirstEnergy reconfigures its network.

In terms of long-term restoration plans, the power utility may end up bringing in a mobile substation on the back of a flatbed trailer. These mobile substations come complete with their own transformer, and they are used by the utility from place to place as interim infrastructure while replacement parts, or a complete new transformer, are procured.

Google Streetview image showing the Met-Ed substation.

Lebanon County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said the county government building at 8th and Oak streets lost power briefly this morning and believes it was about the same time first responders were dispatched to the fire.

“We had a momentary outage that lasted maybe one, two seconds,” said Wolgemuth. I just spoke with (county Emergency Management Services director) Bob Dowd and at this point, it is a fire response. I believe the system probably rerouted electric automatically and isolated the substation.”

Wolgemuth said the temporary loss of power did not impact 911 operations at the county municipal building. While the county is constructing a new 911 Center in North Cornwall Township, operations are still located at the county municipal building.

“We had a momentary outage that was seconds,” said Wolgemuth. “It would have kicked over (to redundancy), but it wasn’t even long enough for the generator to crank and start.”

In an unrelated matter, Wolgemuth said the county commissioners’ direct phone line (717-228-4427) was non-operational as of 9:45 a.m. Their phone system was showing incoming calls, but county officials were unable to answer them.

If there is an urgent need to reach the commissioner’s office before the system is restored, county residents can send an email through their web page.

Wolgemuth said he had received an email from its vendor while speaking with LebTown stating that there were internal issues that the vendor was addressing.

“We can see you in the readout that it is ringing, but we can’t pick the call up,” said Wolgemuth. “We had a couple of issues yesterday, so that’s why it is something internal with our system and not related to what happened this morning.”

Chris Coyle and James Mentzer contributed to this article.

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