Electrical substations perform crucial functions such as transforming voltage from high to low as electricity flows from generating stations to consumers.
So they’re essential for homes and businesses and the suppliers who maintain them are held to stringent safety standards.
Here are five substation fires that brought business to a standstill in several towns and cities — and some tips on how to protect against the damage they cause.
In June 2017 a fierce fire that started in a substation spread to neighbouring business and residential areas in Welsh capital Cardiff.
Power was cut to a swathe of properties as 50 firemen struggled to control the blaze. But thanks to the expertise of the emergency services it was restored reasonably quickly.
Detecting fire quickly can save lives in this type of situation — so investing in smoke alarms gives homeowners and commercial operators enough time to evacuate.
In the same month, vandals targeted an electrical substation in Govan, Glasgow.
And since the equipment was located in a residential area, lives were definitely put at risk.
Engineers were able to reconnect homes rapidly by plugging them into an alternative part of the network, but the consequences could have been fatal nonetheless.
Perimeter safety such as barbed wire barriers can stop some vandalism — but there’s no fail-safe way of deterring determined troublemakers.
A substation blaze in Leicester left 45,000 customers without power in March.
And further danger was caused when traffic lights stopped working — adding driving dangers to a potentially chaotic scene.
The fire was fuelled by nearly 9000 litres of oil in the transformer unit — which firefighters isolated and allowed to burn off.
Fires such as this can also cause explosions — so businesses with stores of confidential records or valuable equipment can mitigate risks by ensuring blast protection systems are installed in vital vaults.
In the same month, a substation fire in Philadelphia caused huge rush-hour traffic jams and plunged the city into darkness.
As buildings were evacuated it took three hours for power to be switched off before firefighters could tackle the blaze safely.
High schools and hospitals were closed down but luckily there were no reports of injuries and the blaze was eventually extinguished.
The incident left tens of thousands of citizens without power for much of the day.
A major substation fire in Plymouth near Detroit recently left 4000 home and commercial customers without power.
And the initial blast created a fireball that lit up utility poles like matchsticks.
Engineers worked overnight to install an emergency substation and restore power to most of the affected areas.
But traffic lights were again affected in this fire, so drivers had to be extremely careful when navigating their way around town.
Substations in the UK and US must meet strict fire protection ratings.
But accidents can happen even when installations are compliant — so it’s vital for members of the public and business owners to take preventative steps wherever possible.
Only the professionalism of service engineers and firefighters prevented these five substation fires turning into tragedies.
How do you protect your business from fire? Share your tips in the comments section.