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Fire In ComEd Vault Cuts Power To Offices, Bridge

Wacker Drive Outage

A ComEd vault fire knocked out power to this building on North Wacker Drive. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 11/5/10 11:05 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/STMW) - Part of the city’s skyline was dark Friday morning, after an electrical fire gave many workers an unexpected three-day weekend.

At 4:48 a.m., an underground cable caught fire and caused heavy smoke in a ComEd vault near the intersection of Lower Wacker Drive and West Randolph Street, according to ComEd spokesman Tony Hernandez.

The fire knocked out power to the buildings at 110 and 150 N. Wacker Dr.

The Randolph Street Bridge also lost power because of the vault fire, Hernandez said. The lights on the bridge were out and the bridge was unable to lift open.

Power was restored before 8:30 a.m., ComEd officials said. But that was after many workers had already been sent home.

Some workers were determined to get in and start the day despite the outage. Attorney Gary Ashman, whose law firm Ashman & Stein is on the 30th floor of the 150 N. Wacker Dr. building, decided to climb the stairs all the way to his office when he found out the elevators weren’t running.

But he took the situation in stride.

“We have a telephone. We have pens and paper. There was a whole world before computers, and you do what you’ve got to do,” Ashman said.

But most people in Ashman’s office building took the day off after, receiving calls from building management that the power was out, and that it wasn’t clear when it would be restored.

The Starbucks Coffee shop on the ground floor shut down, and that left many wondering where they would refuel.

“I needed my oatmeal and my latte,” said Helen Balch of Wilmette. “Not today. That’s a bad morning for most people.”

Brett Johnson agreed, He had promised to bring coffee to some 50 people at his office.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do now,” he said. “They’ll be fed, but thirsty.”
The other affected building at 110 N. Wacker Dr. is the General Growth Building. Makeshift signs went up announcing that the building was “closed due to power outage.”

“Lots of people can’t come today,” said an employee of General Growth Properties, the shopping mall operator that owns the Water Tower Place.

While ComEd workers toiled under Wacker Drive trying to restore power in the vault where the cable burned, many General Growth employees huddled outside, wondering if they should head for home or actually go inside and try and make do in the dark.

Eileen Brown of General Growth said she “definitely” had work that needed to get done, and “probably” could work in the dark if need be.

But she didn’t have to, because by ComEd restored power by the time the business day started. That came too late for Ashman, who by then had already likely hustled up his 30 flights.

“I think I’ll run it,” Ashman said before he headed up the stairs. “Maybe I’ll run it twice.”

Ultimately, many people might have ended up disappointed, and had to work when they thought they were getting a three-day weekend.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli, Don Schwenneker and the Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)