By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — A major fire in a transformer at the McGrail substation, which sits at the corner of Wakefield Avenue and Jefferson Road in Wakefield, knocked out electricity to 300 customers of the Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department (WMGLD) last Wednesday afternoon for about two hours.
“There was a malfunction of some kind, which caused an explosion,” explained Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan. “The explosion blew the transformer apart and between 60 and 70 gallons of oil were released onto the substation property. The oil also splattered onto a duplex home at 50-52 Jefferson Road.”
The transformer, which takes power from high tension wires and reduces the voltage to what the town uses, holds 1,420 gallons of oil. A tree next to the substation also caught fire but was quickly put out, said Sullivan. The tree was charred by the fire, but damage did not appear to be severe. Sullivan said no one suffered injuries while at the fire, nor did the materials used to extinguish the fire result in a toxic condition in the neighborhood.
WMGLD General Manager Pete Dion further explained that an old cable that feeds the transformer caused a malfunction that resulted in the fire. His employees were quickly notified about the substation fire and they responded to the scene immediately.
Sullivan said his department got a call from the Wakefield Police Department at 1:45 p.m. On the arrival of Wakefield firefighters at the substation, a called was placed to the Lynnfield Fire Department and firefighters from that town responded immediately with a supply of foam needed to extinguish the fire.
“We didn’t use any water because it was an electrical fire,” said Sullivan. “Instead, we used 30 gallons of Lynnfield’s foam and dry chemical and carbon dioxide extinguishers to knock it down.”
From Wakefield, Engines 1 and 2 and Ladder 1 responded along with Clean Harbors of Woburn, the company hired to handle the clean-up.
Lynnfield’s crew from Engine 3 at the South Fire Station responded to the fire along with the department’s foam trailer just in case more foam was needed, said Lynnfield Fire Chief Mark Tetreault, who told the Villager that his department received “a special call for foam to put out the fire.”
“They laid about 400 feet of hose from the hydrant and ran the lines to the foam and helped put the fire out,” Tetreault. He explained that foam is “inducted into the water at the pumper” at a ratio of three percent foam for every 100 gallons of water. The trailer holds an additional 750 gallons of foam, but it was not needed, he said.
Tetreault added that many towns have gotten away from carrying foam systems due to the maintenance involved. “They tend to be expensive to maintain. We’ve maintained ours because we have the interstate running through town. It’s worked out pretty well and we’re able to help our neighbors on occasion,” he said.
Reporter Maureen Doherty contributed to this report.