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Outage hits downtown; fuse blamed

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An power outage Friday afternoon in downtown Columbus disrupted operations at several offices and trapped two people in elevators.

Chip Orben, Duke Energy community relations manager, said a fuse in the area of Second Street and California Avenue failed about 2:15 p.m., causing the outage.

“The fuse controls the flow of electricity, and it opened, resulting in the disruption of service,” Orben said.

Power was restored about 3:30 p.m. when the fuse was replaced.

About 500 people and 160 electric meters were affected by the outage, Orben said.

Columbus firefighters received several calls when the power was disrupted, the first at 2:15 p.m. for a possible structure fire at the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, 538 Franklin St. Employees there were reporting an electrical burning smell in the building and evacuated.

A second call came about five minutes later at SIHO Insurance Services, 417 Washington St., on a report of smoke in the building. Employees there also evacuated.

Elaine Caldwell was among a group of SIHO employees waiting in the alley behind the building.

“We don’t really know what happened,” Caldwell said. “Our lights started flickering, we smelled smoke and we got out of there.”

While employees at several other buildings reported an unusual smell, firefighters said there were no actual fires.

At 2:25 p.m., firefighters were called to the Old National Bank building downtown to rescue a man stuck in an elevator. John Spray, a bank vice president, was stuck for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

Spray said the lights flickered and the power failed right after he got in the elevator and pushed the button.

“I tried to use my cellphone, but it wasn’t working either, so I pressed the emergency button, and I heard people calling from the other side of the door,” Spray said. “It was nice to know somebody knew I was in there.”

Another man briefly was stuck in an elevator at the law offices of Coriden Coriden Andrews & Glover at 445 Fifth St., but he managed to get out without assistance.

Columbus Fire Department public information officer Capt. Mike Wilson said the power outage contributed to some other problems in the area, too.

“At SIHO, an air-handling motor malfunctioned and pumped some smoke into the building,” Wilson said.

As firefighters were pre-paring to leave the down-town area, shortly before 3 p.m., they were told about the smell of smoke in the top floor of the Coriden law offices in the historic City Hall building. Wilson said firefighters gained access to the attic area and determined that the air handling unit there had also malfunctioned.

The outage was unusual because none of the buildings lost power completely. Orben explained that the interruption was sporadic because the fuse kicked out only a portion of power in the system.

He compared it to the old fuse systems used in homes that would knock out power in one room without disrupting service to the rest of the house.

Doug Fauth, general counsel for SIHO Insurance Services, said employees were relocated to another company office downtown.

“We’ve got disaster recovery planning for things like this,” Fauth said. “It’s nice to have a place and good to have it work well when something happens.”

Space at the nearby office has been converted for use in case repairs at SIHO aren’t completed by Tuesday morning, he said.

Business owners along Washington Street also were inconvenienced by the power outage. Jay Cole, owner of Gramz Bakery and Cafe remained open for business but could not make fresh batches of coffee. Lights in his shop at 409 Washington St. were dim and ceiling fans were just barely working during the outage.

“I can’t finish any cakes I’ve got back here,” he said. “We got lucky this time because we didn’t have any bread in the oven. Last time this happened, we threw away

100 pounds of dough.”

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