Having left his office in downtown St. John’s, Norm Dimmell was driving along Water Street at about 6:05 p.m. Wednesday and stopped at the intersection with Ayre’s Cove. What happened next was a shock.
“All the lights went out,” he told The Telegram. “As I started moving, there was a ‘pop.’ I turned my head and my truck was engulfed in flames.”
Dimmell seemed calm as he described the event, just minutes later.
“It was almost like there was a water balloon of fire thrown at me and it busted off the side of my truck,” he said.
Dale Foote with the St. John’s Regional Fire Department later confirmed an underground Newfoundland Power generator — specifically a covering around the wiring of the generator — had exploded.
He said a “short circuit” of some kind was the cause. “Because it’s surrounded in mineral oil, it exploded and, when it did, it blew the (manhole) cover and that up.”
Asked how much the manhole cover might weigh, Foote estimated it to be 300 pounds.
There were no injuries reported, but the underside of Dimmell’s vehicle was damaged. It was leaking fluids.
Karen Ryan witnessed the blast. Like Dimmell, she also said the lights went out moments before.
“This guy in the truck was just passing over that manhole cover and then next thing this huge explosion and flames were shooting up through it and this guy was seconds from totally running over it and getting blown up. Honest to God,” she said. “I called 911 and I said, ‘I think you better get down here.’”
Jamie Holmes had just driven through the same intersection. Heading in the opposite direction, he was by the RBC building when he was startled by an explosion.
“All I heard was a big bang. I looked in my mirror and I saw the flames and the smoke just going around the truck,” he said. “I parked (to the side of) the road and came running back and the smoke was dying off then. Everyone was fine, thank God.”
Holmes said firefighters arrived only a “few minutes” later, and closed off the intersection. Despite the rapid response, about half a dozen other vehicles passed over the opening before the area could be closed off, he said. “It was pretty scary, actually.”
Due to “some kind of gas” or an “oily residue” around the area of the manhole, the firefighters put foam in and around the opening.
After the scene was secured and some preliminary investigation, Foote said he’d never seen anything like it, and the driver was “very fortunate.”
Newfoundland Power was investigating as of Wednesday evening.
“Right now, light and power are going to be addressing the situation,” Foote said. “They have to replace the relays that are down in underneath the street. After that, power will be restored to the area and the street will be opened up.”
Dimmell, meanwhile, left his vehicle behind and walked away from the scene on foot. Behind him could be seen a collection of onlookers, an intersection covered with foam and emergency vehicles with lights still flashing.
There was a different kind of incident in downtown St. John’s Wednesday evening.
The power was out at Ayre’s Cove and Water Street, and a motorist driving a four-wheel drive pickup alongside a manhole cover there heard a pop and then flames shot up around his vehicle.
The male driver said it was like being hit with a water balloon of flames.
Firefighters and police responded. Foam was laid out in and around the manhole.
Dale Foote with the St. John's Regional Fire Department confirmed a Newfoundland Power generator exploded underground, forcing the cover off the manhole.
Newfoundland Power were on the scene to investigate as of 7:15 p.m.
No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.
More in tomorrow's edition of The Telegram.