UPDATED 07/01/11 1:13 p.m.
EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — The storms Thursday night brought a power line down onto the Purple Line ‘L’ tracks in Evanston, sparking a blazing electrical fire and shutting down the line for about 2 1/2 hours.
Around 10:38 p.m. Thursday, a train operator on the Purple Line reported a downed power line lying on the tracks just on the tracks south of the Foster Street station, Chicago Transit Authority spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.
The power line set fire to some trees and brush alongside the tracks caught fire, Evanston Fire Division Chief Tom Janetske said.
Witnesses captured video of the fire. One uploader said the fire burned brightly for several minutes just behind Northwestern University’s Engelhart Hall, 1915 Maple Ave.
The situation was too dangerous for firefighters to respond to right away, the uploader wrote, adding that a firefighter told witnesses, “It’ll kill everyone (if we go up there right now.)”
Popping sounds and flashes reminiscent of fireworks are visible in the uploader’s video.
Scott Wilson of Evanston was on a Purple Line train when the fire broke out. He said his train stopped at the Foster station for about five minutes, and then the train operator walked from car to car telling passengers they had to evacuate the train because, “I can’t get through here.” As soon as the train pulled away, Wilson captured video the fire blazing a short distance down the tracks.
When fire crews arrived, power was immediately shut down power on the ‘L’ tracks, Janetske said. But fire crews could not safely get to the downed power line on the tracks until ComEd crews came to turn off the power line.
Thus, Purple Line service was suspended for the entire length of the line – from the Howard terminal in Chicago to Linden in Wilmette – until 1:07 a.m. Friday. A shuttle ran in place of the trains, Hosinski said.
Ultimately, since trains stopped as a result of operators’ vigilance, the was no major safety hazard from the downed power line, Janetske said.
The tracks were not damaged by the fire, Hosinski said.
Around the same time as the Purple Line incident, a power line also came down along Elgin Road in downtown Evanston. Police and fire officials shut down Elgin Road between Maple and Sherman avenues for an extended period of time as ComEd removed the cables, Janetske said.
The storms Thursday night were to blame for both incidents, he said.
Downed power lines in Evanston were blamed for widespread outages during the violent storms Thursday night. The City of Evanston reported on Thursday evening, about 3,000 customers were without power.
The outages were scattered throughout the north suburban city, including a cluster near the Purple Line station at Foster Street. A ComEd map also showed outages along McCormick Boulevard between Elgin and Green Bay roads, and in a cluster between Dodge and Asbury avenues and between Howard and Oakton streets.
By around 1 p.m. Friday, only about 200 ComEd customers were still without power in Evanston, Janetske said.
Adam Harrington, cbschicago.com