Nick Breedlove/Jackson County TDA

By Carey Phillips 

and Dave Russell

A fire Saturday at Duke Energy’s Webster Substation knocked out electricity for approximately 16,000 customers, Duke spokeswoman Lisa Leatherman said.

“We lost the breakers that feed the 66 lines that go from Tuckasegee north into Jackson County,” she said.

The outage began at about 11:35 a.m., and the bulk of customers had power restored in a little more than five hours, she said.

Areas affected included Sylva, Webster, Dillsboro and Cullowhee as well as south toward Tuckasegee and Savannah, east toward Balsam and north toward Cherokee.

The lines to the Cherokee area were repaired about an hour earlier, she said.

The outage disrupted Independence Day plans throughout Jackson County.

Members of the Sylva Police Department directed traffic at some intersections.

A Duke transmission crew based in Franklin responded.

“Local crews,” Leatherman said. “They cover everything west of Haywood County, including Jackson.”

The fire originated in a grounding bank.

“When you have a fault, it sends the energy into the ground,” Leatherman said. “There was a piece of equipment in the substation that malfunctioned, and so the grounding bank acted the way it was designed to. 

“Whenit took in all that energy it directed it into the ground,” she said. There was some smoke and fire with that, but it protected the rest of the substation. Breaker failure is what caused the activation of the ground bank.”

The Savannah Fire Department was called to the substation at 11:55 a.m., 20 minutes after the power outage occurred. 

That’s when a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office had driven by the substation on N.C. 116 and saw that a transformer was burning, according to Savannah Fire Chief Darrell Woodard.

“It wasn’t burning that bad when firefighters arrived as it had partially burnt out,” Woodard said.

Duke asked that the road be shut down until crews could assess the situation, Woodard said. The road remained closed for about an hour.

The voltage coming into the substation in 161,000 volts. From there it is distributed to 66 lines that feed parts of Jackson County, Leatherman said.