- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

A smoldering underground cable left about 300 Columbia Heights customers without power until early yesterday afternoon when Potomac Electric Power Co. completed repairs.
Yesterday's short of a 14,000-volt primary cable was most likely heat-related, said Robert Dobkin, Pepco spokesman. The outage affected mainly residential customers between 14th and 16th streets and Park Road and Newton Street NW.
The smoke came from a manhole in front of 1413 Park Road NW, but service was disrupted in a residential area several blocks away. Service was restored around 1:12 p.m.
This smoldering manhole was the first in the Columbia Heights area in recent years, although a series of manhole explosions have plagued other parts of the city, most notably the Georgetown area. Almost two weeks ago, an underground fire left 1,600 Georgetown customers without power for four days in the neighborhood around M Street NW. City officials said that blackout cost businesses more than $1 million.
Yesterday around 9:30 a.m., a police officer called the D.C. fire department to report smoke coming from a manhole. Fire department officials then notified Pepco of the problem and work crews were immediately sent to the site. When they arrived, they found no evidence of an explosion and saw no flames coming from the manhole.
Mr. Dobkin said Pepco received calls from several customers in the neighborhood in the past few weeks saying their lights had been flickering, but workers have been unable to isolate the problem. He said a hole in the insulation the size of a pinhole could cause the lights to flicker, adding that blackouts often occur.
"We have minor outages frequently," Mr. Dobkin said. "It is part of having a major metropolitan system."
He said temporary repairs in Georgetown have been completed at 31st and M streets NW. Pepco crews last week repaired several sets of cables that intersect at the corner without any customers losing power. All Pepco equipment has been removed and all lanes have been reopened to traffic. Work crews will return soon to do permanent repairs.
An overhaul of the underground utility network, including electric, phone, water and gas lines, is scheduled to begin in August, Mr. Dobkin said.

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