OPPD: Transformer the cause of an underground explosion Monday night, investigation continues

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -Fire crews rushed to the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Omaha after reports of an explosion followed by massive clouds of smoke Monday evening.

An underground transformer in a vault is to blame for the explosion near 17th and Capitol.

“We are very lucky that no one was walking around when that decided to go bad last night,” said Jerry benedict, OPPD Field Supervisor.

Thick smoke could be seen billowing from our sky cam on top of the First National Bank building.

“We started walking down eight flights of stairs. As we’re doing that, the building was shaking a bit and the lights were flickering on and off,” said one witness.

Underground transformers are common in downtown areas. That’s because they are large enough to handle the power being provided to large buildings.

OPPD says there’s an entire networking system of underground transformers in downtown Omaha stretching from 9th and Capitol to 24th and Leavenworth.

“These are very large three-phase transformers and they are buried in vaults underground… for room basically downtown,” said Benedict.

OPPD says they inspect the transformers inside the vaults.

The transformer that sparked an explosion Monday night was lasted checked out in March of 2020. OPPD says it was due to be inspected again.

“We do it once a year on every transformer system in the system. We check everything out and make sure everything’s looking good and up to snuff on the system.”

Crews are working to fix the transformer that exploded. Until then, power at the DoubleTree and the traffic lights near 17th and Capitol will be out.

No one else will be impacted by the outage.

“When one transformer, if it does go bad, we have other transformers that can help pick up the load. You’ll see no outage at all downtown. You very rarely ever see an outage downtown unless we have a fire and that’s one of our biggest concerns.”

OPPD says underground explosions and fires are rare but do occasionally happen. They are going to be examining all the wires inside the transformer that exploded to determine what exactly went wrong Monday night.

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