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Explosion at UC Berkeley: Campus Evacuated, Minor Injuries, Fire, 20 Trapped in Elevators

A loud electrical explosion in the center of the UC Berkeley campus Monday night – apparently caused by a copper theft – ignited a fire, left four people with injuries, forced a campus evacuation and left about 20 people stuck in elevators.

Explosion at UC Berkeley: Campus Evacuated, Minor Injuries, Fire, 20 Trapped in Elevators

By Charles Burress and Alex Gronke

An explosion in an electrical vault at UC Berkeley Monday night sent one student to a medical facility with minor burns, started a fire and forced an evacuation of the campus as police and engineers raced to rescue people trapped in stalled elevators, a campus official said.

The explosion – apparently caused by damage from a copper theft – occurred just north of California Hall about 6:30 p.m., about two hours after a campus-wide power outage, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof. 

It ignited a fire in the electrical vault that wasn't extinguished until about 8 p.m., he said. No damage to campus structures occurred, he said.

The blast kicked up smoke and debris about two stories in the air and sent a loud boom echoing across the campus, he said. It also brought UC police cars onto to campus with flashing lights telling everyone over loudspeakers to leave the campus.

The student who suffered minor burns was treated and released, the campus reported in an update at 11:15 p.m. Three other people suffered minor injuries for which they declined treatment, Mogulof said.

About 20 people were trapped in elevators in different buildings and had all been freed before 8:30 p.m., the campus said.

Campus authorities have "a strong suspicion" that the outage and explosion were caused by damage from the theft of copper wiring discovered in an electrical substation last week, Mogulof said.

Workers made repairs over the weekend and thought they had fully restored the wiring system, which seemed to be working fine most of today, he said.

But after the outage and then the explosion, campus authorities realized the damage caused by the thefts was more extensive than they had believed, Mogulof said.

Campus officials were hoping to have the electrical system fully restored sometime tonight so that classes and other campus activities can resume Tuesday morning, he said.

The 11:15 p.m. campus update said partial power had been restored and that efforts for full restoration would continue throughout the night.

Another update was expected to be posted by 6 a.m. Tuesday, the campus said.

Updates were being posted on the UC Berkeley website, on the campus update line at 1-800-705-9998 and the campus Facebook page.

Published Sept. 30, 2013, 7:40 p.m.; updated Oct. 1, 12:28 a.m.

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