By Charles Burress and Alex Gronke
An explosion in an electrical vault at UC Berkeley tonight, Monday, sent one student to the hospital with minor burns, started a fire and forced an evacuation of the campus as police and engineers raced to rescue people trapped in stalled elevators, a campus official said.
The explosion – apparently caused by damage from a copper theft – occurred just north of California Hall about 6:30 p.m., about two hours after a campus-wide power outage, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof.
It ignited a fire in the electrical vault that wasn't extinguished until about 8 p.m., he said. No damage to campus structures occurred, he said.
The blast kicked up smoke and debris about two stories in the air and sent a loud boom echoing across the campus, he said. It also brought UC police cars onto to campus with flashing lights telling everyone over loudspeakers to leave the campus.
Three other people, in addition to the student taken to a hospital, suffered minor injuries for which they declined treatment, Mogulof said.
About 20 people were trapped in elevators in different buildings and had all been freed before 9 p.m., he said.
Campus authorities have "a strong suspicion" that the outage and explosion were caused by damage from the theft of copper wiring discovered in an electrical substation last week, Mogulof said.
Workers made repairs over the weekend and thought they had fully restored the wiring system, which seemed to be working fine most of today, he said.
But after the outage and then the explosion, campus authorities realized the damage caused by the thefts was more extensive than they had believed, Mogulof said.
Campus officials were hoping to have the electrical system fully restored sometime tonight so that classes and other campus activities can resume tomorrow morning, he said.
Updates will be posted on the UC Berkeley website, he said. Ongoing updates can be obtained also by calling 1-800-705-9998 throughout the evening, the website says.
About 9:25 p.m., the campus Facebook page reported that campus email and other systems were being restored.