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UC Berkeley explosion possibly caused by copper wire theft

01 October 2013

A powerful explosion rocked University of California’s Berkeley campus on September 30 leaving four people with minor burns. The blast caused a blackout which left a number of students and staff trapped in elevators around the campus. The blast and fire, which was north of California Hall, was probably caused by the theft of copper wire from an off-campus electrical station, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

“We have a strong suspicion that what happened is related to vandalism discovered last week,” Mogulof told reporters. “The damage they caused may have been far more extensive than we originally thought.”

He said the blast area was two stories high and two roadway-lanes wide and sent at least one manhole cover shooting into the air. The crisis triggered an ammonia leak, which was contained. 

Ripping the wire out of the system probably required special equipment, Mogulof said. The explosion took place as engineers were attempting to bring power back up.

He said there are "miles and miles" of underground cable throughout the sprawling campus. Engineers attempting to bring the system back online after the power outage were startled by the explosion and Mogulof said what they were seeing "just didn't make sense to them."

“Something happened here that surprised the experts,” he said. “Somebody attacked our system. Somebody stole key parts of our system.”

The campus remained dark Monday night, except for the lights of police vehicles patrolling the area and emergency generators providing power for research projects.

Power was brought back in stages after safety tests on October 1.

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