Cable theft blamed for substation inferno

Date: 14 Jun 2007
This emerged as Ekurhuleni's executive mayor, Duma Nkosi visited the site of the substation to find out what had caused the massive fire that destroyed one of the metro's major electricity supply points. The blaze plunged 16 Boksburg suburbs into darkness, leaving businesses and thousands of households without power. The affected suburbs included Witkoppie, Bardene, Bartlett, Dayanglen, Cason, Boksburg North, Comet, Beyers Park, Jansen Park, Impala Park, Atlasville, Anderbolt, Plantation, Westwood, Parkdene and Witfield. The mayor, accompanied by Louis Sibeko, the mayoral committee member who heads infrastructure services, was briefed by Mark Wilson, an electrical engineer and general manager of the metro's department of electricity and energy. Wilson told the mayor that preliminary investigations showed that the fire might have sparked by an attempted cable theft and was not a maintenance fault. He said it looked as if someone had used an axe to chop a main cable, which the substation feeds from an Eskom line, in order to try to steal it. The resulting fault caused an explosion of a switch and ignited two transformers. The substation was damaged beyond repair in the ensuing blaze. After the briefing, the mayor announced that power would be restored to 80% of the affected suburbs, but that electricity to the remaining 20% might take a while longer. Wilson explained that they were receiving assistance from City Power in Joburg, the Tshwane metro and Eskom to erect a temporary substation. A transformer from Eskom and a spare one from the Ekurhuleni metro will be used while the substation is being rebuilt. The metro's electricity department has not been affected by the sympathy strike by municipal workers. All of its workers are available to form rotating teams that will work 24-hour shifts to complete the huge job. Wilson told the mayor that there was sufficient finance and parts available. He said the metro's staff were being assisted by three contractors, including a specialist who tests high-voltage cables. Nkosi said it would take an investment of between R25-million and R30-million from the metro to rebuild the substation. He appealed to the community to assist the metro and Eskom to immediately report cable theft and to discourage this type of crime. "We need our communities' support, because cable theft has severe consequences. It puts traffic lights out of action, which is a danger to our motorists, and affects hotels and other establishments that play a big role in our local economy." Although the fire was an accident and could not be foreseen, the mayor apologised to consumers. Meanwhile, businesses in Boksburg have lost money and residents have been inconvenienced. At the East Rand Mall yesterday, David Taylor, the manager at The House of Ribs, said he had already lost about R35 000 worth of business as a result of the power outage. Taylor said, however, that the Ekurhuleni municipality had been informative and supportive since the power went off on Tuesday afternoon. He said he had 2 tons of meat worth R25 000 in his fridge and he was worried it would soon rot. By Anna Louw & Linda Mbongwa The Star 14/06/07