Outage triggers explosion at Berkeley; copper wire theft to blame?

BERKELEY, Calif. A power outage triggered an explosion and fire at the University of California at Berkeley on Monday evening, prompting an emergency evacuation of the campus and hospitalizing one person with burns, reports CBS San Francisco.

The blast may have been caused by an underground copper wire theft at a campus substation last week, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. Officials thought they had repaired the damage Sunday.

"It appears that may have caused far greater damage than initially thought," Mogulof said. "It's more extensive."

The explosion occurred in an underground utility vault outside California Hall. Crews restored power to most of the campus. The school's Twitter feed announced early Tuesday that most classes would meet as scheduled.

In addition to the one person hospitalized, three others also received minor burns but refused treatment, Mogulof said.

"The explosion was about two stories high and as wide as a two-lane street," Mogulof said. "We're very fortunate there were no serious injuries."

With many buildings in the dark, fire crews also freed about 20 people stuck in dormitory elevators as a result of the outage that also led to the mandatory evacuation on campus.

It's still unclear whether classes will resume on Tuesday.

The power outage was reported around 4:30 p.m. Monday and led to evening classes being canceled as students were told to suspend all lab activities, Mogulof said.

About a half-hour later, authorities reported an apparent ammonia leak in a room at Latimer Hall. It was contained almost immediately, campus officials said.

That was followed by the explosion, Berkeley acting fire Chief Gil Dong said.

Campus officials said late Monday that they were slowly trying to restore power across campus in stages as campus e-mail was restored and other systems were coming online.

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