CA: Phone service down in coastal areas : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Phone service down in certain coastal areas

Tuesday, June 27, 2000 Breaking News Sections

(06-27) 07:04 PDT SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) -- A fire in a Pacific Bell manhole knocked out telephone service to about 20,000 residents of South San Francisco and areas along the San Mateo County coast.

The 911 centers were working Tuesday despite the outages, which began about 4 p.m. Monday, but that was little consolation to the thousands of residents without a dial tone. The 911 center in South San Francisco was down for less than an hour Monday before it was switched to a backup system.

Some cities were concerned the 911 system was not working, but a phone company test showed all 911 calls, presumably placed from cellular phones, were going through, said Pacific Bell spokesman John Britton.

The fire happened in San Bruno, when workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension project were removing steel supports from the construction site, Britton said. A welder's torch is believed to have caused the blaze, he said.

Twenty-seven Pacific Bell cables were destroyed in the fire, and Pacific Bell officials have promised that crews will work around the clock to repair the damage. Still, officials say that could take several days.

The fire was extinguished in about 15 minutes.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 27, 2000


Phone service down in certain coastal areas

Tuesday, June 27, 2000 Breaking News Sections

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------

(06-27) 12:37 PDT SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) -- The 27,000 homes and businesses on the San Francisco Peninsula that lost phone service after a manhole fire Monday were still disconnected Tuesday.

The phone company offered 300 cellular phones and extra public pay phones to help with the shortages in South San Francisco and other parts of San Mateo County. City officials decided what emergency personnel would receive the phones.

The pay phones were hooked up to repaired lines, which could have been routed to homes but would not have served as many people, said Pacific Bell spokesman John Britton.

The fire in the Pacific Bell manhole happened in San Bruno, when workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension project were removing steel supports from the construction site, Britton said. A welder's torch is believed to have caused the blaze, he said.

Twenty-seven Pacific Bell cables were destroyed in the fire, and Pacific Bell officials have promised that crews will work around the clock to repair the damage. Still, officials say that could take several days.

Crews were working on splicing lines in three manholes Tuesday, including the one where lines were destroyed in the fire. Workers enlarged one manhole so it could accommodate seven members of the repair crew instead of two. file=/news/archive/2000/06/27/state1003EDT0131.DTL

-- Martin Thompson (, June 27, 2000.

Published Wednesday, June 28, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News

Phone outage may last weeks 25,000 lines go dead in Monday accident BY KIM VO Mercury News

It may take weeks to return phone service to Pacific Bell customers in northern San Mateo County, where communication lines were accidentally severed by construction crews, officials said Tuesday.

``The repair process -- it's a rolling process, a very meticulous process,'' said Pacific Bell spokesman Rodd Aubrey. He said it may take ``a couple of weeks'' to restore all service and was unable to give a firmer time line. ``This is a really unusual situation.''

About 25,000 phone lines were knocked out Monday afternoon after contractors working on the BART extension accidentally started a fire, damaging a telephone cable. Emergency 911 service was lost, but restored by nightfall.

However, as of Tuesday afternoon private phone lines remained out of service in South San Francisco and San Bruno, Aubrey said. He noted that 25,000 lines -- not customers -- had been inconvenienced since many homes have more than one line.

South San Francisco and San Bruno officials said they were unaware of any missed emergency calls for residents unable to dial 911. Pacific Bell has offered cellular phones to the emergency departments, which may distribute them to senior centers and other facilities.

The outage has affected about a third of South San Francisco's population, said fire department spokeswoman Susan Kennedy, including customers west of Interstate 280 to Skyline Boulevard, west of El Camino Real and west of Interstate 380 to the Colma border.

``This is one opportunity to think, `What are my backup plans?' '' Kennedy said.

Residents without phone service should check with their neighbors to find someone with a working line or a cellular phone, she said. Anyone calling the emergency line from a cellular phone should dial (650) 873-3333. Residents can also call 911 from a working pay phone.

Capt. Russ Nicolopulos of the San Bruno Police Department said his city was still assessing the damage, but it appeared limited to the neighborhoods north of Sneath Lane and east of Skyline. Cellular callers with emergencies should dial (650) 877-8989.

BART contractors apparently sparked the fire while welding steel pillars at the San Bruno station, BART spokesman Mike Healy said. The matter is being investigated.

Aubrey with Pacific Bell said it's unclear whether the telephone company will charge BART for damages, should the commuter service be culpable.

``Right now we're just focused on getting service restored,'' Aubrey said.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 28, 2000.


San Mateo County Phone Line Repair To Take 2 Weeks

David Lazarus, Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writers Wednesday, June 28, 2000 The Bay Area may be ground zero for high tech, but it took only a tiny droplet of welding material to bring communications shuddering to a halt.

It will be two weeks -- at least -- before telephone service is fully restored to 25,000 homes and businesses in San Mateo County after a devastating manhole fire near the Tanforan Park Shopping Center, Pacific Bell officials said yesterday.

The fire, believed to have been sparked Monday afternoon by a welder working on the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport, destroyed portions of 27 cables running underground just above the new BART tunnels.

Pacific Bell spokesman Rodd Aubrey said 800 feet of cable must be replaced along each of the 27 lines.

``Each line needs to be spliced individually and tested individually,'' he said. ``It's a long and tedious process.''

The phone snafu comes just a couple of weeks after power failures during a heat wave left numerous Bay Area homes and businesses in the dark. Some Silicon Valley firms said they lost $1 million for each hour their machines were idle.

Emergency 911 service was restored by 9 p.m. Monday in South San Francisco and San Bruno, the two cities affected by the outage. Dial tones were back yesterday at Kaiser Permanente's South San Francisco medical center.

Airport operations were uninterrupted, a spokesman said.


But for thousands of residential and business customers throughout the area, it could be days or weeks before their phones are ringing once again.

Jesus Pena was forced to leave his South San Francisco home and drive randomly across the Peninsula before finally finding a working pay phone in San Bruno to call his girlfriend.

``There's really nothing to do without a phone,'' he said. ``It's not the 1800s anymore.''

Internet access for many -- including a number of dot-com firms -- also will be cut off until the phone lines are restored, while brick- and- mortar businesses are finding it hard to adapt to the loss of credit card machines, ATMs and computer networks.

Gilbert Osotio, an agent-in-training at Barnes Insurance in San Bruno, had the unhappy task of interrupting his boss's first vacation in three years to explain that the 10 or 15 policies the business normally writes each day had dwindled to zero.

``A majority of our business is through the phones,'' Osotio said, surrounded by computers under dustcovers and silent telephones. ``There is going to be a sizable loss.''


Even the Cellular One outlet in the Tanforan mall was struggling as waves of customers tried to sign up for service, only to be turned away.

``We had 15 people come in at one time. They all wanted cellular, because they didn't have phones at home,'' said salesman Sergio Mejia. ``Unfortunately, we've not been able to do anything, because our phones are down, too. . . . We can't activate them.''

``It's just incredibly bad luck,'' said Dave Madden, a spokesman for the BART extension project. ``We were a day away from finishing there, and you'd have never seen it again. It's real bad luck.''

The accident occurred while employees of Tutor-Saliba/Slattery, the joint venture construction firm hired by BART to build the $530 million airport extension, were removing steel support beams above an underground vault used by Pacific Bell workers to reach telephone lines.

The BART tunnels run directly beneath the 700-cubic-foot phone vault.

Madden said that as an acetylene torch was used to melt welds connecting the support beams, a droplet of welding material is believed to have fallen into the vault, igniting the plastic covers of the phone cables.


San Bruno Fire Chief William Graham suspects human error. He said protective covers over the vault apparently had been removed despite work nearby by welders.

``We have to assume that all precautions were not in place that should have been,'' Graham said. ``At this point in time, it does appear the welding and cutting operations near that vault were the ignition (sources) that did start the fire.''

Firefighters from South San Francisco and San Bruno put out the fire in about 15 minutes, Graham said.

``Everything in there was melted and destroyed,'' BART's Madden said.

The fire did not affect the BART tunnels, and work now will proceed on other sections of the rail extension.

Madden said Tutor-Saliba will submit a report to the San Bruno Fire Department, which is expected to issue its findings today.

It is not yet known who will pay for the damage to Pac Bell's lines. Pac Bell officials said it is too early to place a price tag on the repairs.

``I'm sure it's going to be subject to accounting and lawyers and everything else,'' Madden said.

Tutor-Saliba executives in Southern California and the Bay Area did not return repeated calls for comment.


Pac Bell officials said work on the phone lines will proceed slowly because individual strands within each cable must be reconnected by hand.

There are as many as 96 strands in each of the four fiber-optic cables affected and more than 3,000 in each of the 23 copper lines.

The high-speed fiber-optic cables will be restored first, said John Britton, a Pac Bell spokesman who spent yesterday overseeing repair work. He said this would minimize the impact on local businesses.

``We have people working around the clock in three nine-hour shifts,'' Britton said. ``We're going all-out.''

To help pick up the pace, heavy machinery was brought in yesterday afternoon to widen the manhole leading into the vault. Britton said this would allow as many as seven workers to get at the cables simultaneously.

Pac Bell distributed cellular phones to local government officials shortly after the fire and is now installing banks of pay phones around South San Francisco and San Bruno.

Britton said the pay phones would be connected as the first lines are restored, allowing a greater number of people access to service.

San Bruno Police Capt. Russ Nicolopulos said he knew of no problems that have arisen because of the lack of phone service other than inconvenience. Police are increasing patrols in areas where phones are out, he said.

Emergency workers yesterday visited senior centers, care homes and similar facilities. Most without telephone service had cellular telephones, Kennedy said.

Pac Bell's Britton said service likely will be restored to 100 customers at a time over the next couple of weeks as each cable is repaired.

That may not be soon enough for shops such as Sports Fever, where salesman David Tobener was finding few takers for his store's sudden ``cash only'' policy.

He said he was keeping his fingers crossed that phone service would be restored in time for a big weekend sale. ``Thankfully,'' Tobener said, ``I'm not working this weekend.''

Chronicle staff writer Marshall Wilson contributed to this report. E- mail David Lazarus at and Matthew Stannard at file=/chronicle/archive/2000/06/28/MN44919.DTL 7

-- (, June 28, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ