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Senior High-Rise in Sacramento Evacuated After Substation Fire Knocks Out Power

About 150 residents at a downtown Sacramento high rise were evacuated Tuesday night, hours after a fire at a nearby electrical substation knocked out power.

The Sacramento Fire Department made the call to evacuate the 108-unit Edgewater Apartments, an affordable housing complex operated by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency on the 600 block of I Street, following multiple calls for service, said fire spokesman Capt. Keith Wade.

According to city spokesman Tim Swanson, 12 residents with medical needs were also evacuated at the nearby Hotel Berry, Shasta Hotel and the Sequoia due to the power interruption.

“Our team is trying to triage our people to vacant hotels and motels; some are connecting with family,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in at a late-night news conference. “Everyone is going to be cared for.”

Steinberg said fire crews were evaluating safety at nine other housing complexes in the downtown area.

Sacramento Fire Chief Gary Loesch said other buildings in the area had or would be hooked up to backup generators, and that fire officials were setting up fire watches in those buildings during the outage. Evacuations are voluntary in those buildings, except for residents who need medical support. Loesch said they will be taken to a shelter location or hospitals as needed.

“One of my big scares, obviously, is people doing what they can do to make light and to stay warm. So, we’re asking everybody please do not light candles,” Loesch said about the potential fire hazards.

The fire chief said this is the first time the city’s has conducted an evacuation operation this large. By 9:45 p.m., firefighters had nearly emptied Edgewater, Loesch said, and it would be another few hours before he could regroup his firefighters to start evaluating the other housing complexes they’re watching.

The 12-block-by-5-block outage was caused by a midday fire at a Sacramento Municipal Utility District substation, a block north of Edgewater.

Just before noon, a fire sparked at the facility, knocking out power to roughly 1,300 buildings in a six-block area of downtown. The cause of the fire is under investigation, SMUD officials said, adding that the damage from the fire would keep the power off for those customers adjacent to the substation for at least a day.

In a 7 a.m. Wednesday update, SMUD said it had restored power to about 500 customers, leaving about 800 in an outage.

SMUD officials said in a late Tuesday update that one of its downtown networks had been damaged by the fire and two additional networks connected to Station A were being examined.

“Crews are working through the night to test the two de-energized networks and are planning to restore power to about 700 customers by morning,” SMUD said of the substation behind historic Station A, which was completed in 1895 to distribute electricity from the Folsom Powerhouse to downtown businesses and street cars.

Residents of Edgewater are being assisted by fire personnel and officers from the Sacramento Police Department, and will be sheltered at City Hall and the Hart Senior Center at James Marshall Park in midtown, Wade said. The Red Cross was assisting at City Hall, officials said.

The city’s Office of Emergency Services said in a news release that “the most medically frail are being placed in motels by SHRA.”

Sacramento Regional Transit was on-site to provide transportation. A number of ambulances are there, too, for residents of the tower who are not ambulatory.

Wade said the decision to evacuate was made around 7 p.m. after fire personnel responded to multiple calls for service at the building. As fire personnel visited the site, they noticed that the fire suppression system was not enabled due to the lack of power.

“We are going door-to-door,” he said. “It’s an evacuation that is not voluntarily. They have to go.”

The building did not have a backup generator for the system or for residents who require oxygen through devices that require electricity, Wade said.

Wade said firefighters who had toured the building during multiple calls for service noticed a number of residents using candles for light. The building’s heating system was also offline. That combination could prove hazardous for the residents, Wade said.

“We’re not going to run that risk,” he said.

Keywan Ranjbar said his parents who are in their 80s have lived in the Edgewater building for 7 years. They have an apartment on the eighth floor with a bathroom that continued to function after the outage.

“Everything is OK with them, with the exception of the darkness,” Ranjbar said about his parents.

His father has back problems and can’t use the stairs to get out of the building, and the elevators are not working.

Ranjbar waited outside the building Tuesday night trying to find out where his parents will stay tonight, either with relatives or at his home in Sacramento.

Wade said SMUD had indicated the power would be off for 24 to 48 hours. Sacramento Director of Emergency Management Daniel Bowers said the city is partnering with SMUD to make sure anyone who continues to be affected by the power outage on Wednesday will receive a motel voucher.

“I would say we are prepared for this,” Bowers said.

Joseph A. Nelson’s brother, 72-year-old Kenneth Nelson, has lived in the Edgewater building for eight years. His brother has an apartment on the 12th floor that’s been without running water since the power went out. Its bathroom stopped working, he said.

“He can’t use the stairs, they’re going to have to bring him down,” Nelson said about his brother, a cardiac patient and struggles to walk with a cane.

He said his brother will likely have to stay in one of the shelters.

CORRECTION: Due to incorrect information provided to The Bee, a previous version of this story indicated another senior apartment complex was evacuated. City officials said only Edgewater residents were under a mandatory order.

Corrected Dec 14, 2021


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