Nearly 11,000 people in West Miami-Dade lost power when a Florida Power & Light substation caught fire around 4 p.m. Tuesday off Northwest 72nd Avenue, sparking a massive blaze that led to major traffic tie-ups during the afternoon rush hour.
No one was injured, according to FPL and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
The blaze affected thousands, stretching from the substation — at 6001 NW 70th Ave. — to downtown Miami, where calls came into Miami Fire Rescue of people stuck in elevators as the work day began to wind down. The stench of charred metal filled the air.
A man named Rifino, who only gave his first name, said he was driving east on Northwest 58th Street near the Palmetto Expressway when he heard the explosion. Thinking it was a small plane that had crashed, he drove closer to the source.
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“It was very large, and it was very hot,” he said. “Police were trying to keep people away because they didn’t know what it was at first.”
Miami Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Felipe Lay said the call came in about 4 p.m. that an FPL transformer had blown. Firefighters coordinated efforts with FPL to turn off the electricity. A foam truck from Miami International Airport responded, as well, and at least 10 fire units.
Flights at MIA were not affected by the billowing black smoke cloud, airport spokesman Greg Chin said. “We had a brief power flicker, but we’re back up,” he said. The substation is northwest of MIA.
The fire led to the closing of major roads, including Northwest 54th Street and 72nd Avenue. Officers shut down Northwest 72nd Avenue in both directions; traffic lights were not working at many intersections. The Palmetto Expressway remained open, but exit ramps were clogged and northbound traffic was snarled.
Oscar Hernandez, who works for a trucking company called Estes, was stuck in traffic for more than an hour as he was trying to drop off his truck at the end of the work day. His terminal was next to the substation.
“I saw smoke from miles away, and no lights were working at all,” he said, adding that his co-workers had warned him that there had been an explosion at the substation. “There was nothing I could do except wait in the traffic.”
FPL reported that service had been restored to most of its customers, with about 3,500 still in the dark at 5 p.m. By the evening, all power had been restored. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue had the blaze under control by that time. A charred utility vehicle could be seen next to the blackened transformer as smoke continued to rise.
“The good thing is that no one was injured; we were able to respond in a coordinated manner and extinguish the fire safely,” Lay said.
“We’ve got crews on the scene to restore service as quickly as possible,” FPL spokesman Chris McGrath said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Follow Cohen on Twitter @HowardCohen.