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Utility pole fire snarls traffic on Riverside

WATSONVILLE — A booming explosion atop a utility pole knocked out power and triggered a fire Friday on Riverside Drive in Watsonville. 

The 3:30 p.m. incident blew out electricity to a large number of homes and businesses in the downtown corridor.

Watsonville firefighters used yellow tape to close down Riverside Drive between Marchant and Lincoln streets as flames enveloped the top of the pole and sent a cloud of ominous brown smoke over the neighborhood.

At first, firefighters were not able to extinguish the flames because the power lines were energized.

A crew from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) showed up within minutes and began efforts to kill the power. Once they did, firefighters moved in and doused the flames.

“I heard the first explosion,” said a neighbor, who said her name was Sheridan. “I thought it was a car crash, it was that loud. That’s when I saw this mini-mushroom cloud coming up. Then there was another explosion.”

A PG&E worker said the power lines involved carried 21,000 volts.

The power outage was the second in the area during a 45-minute period. Temperatures into the upper 90s added to the tension, as the afternoon rush-hour traffic clogged several streets and students from Watsonville High began to filter through the neighborhood after class.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately revealed, said Fire Capt. Corey Schaefer.

At 4:30 p.m. firefighters were still keeping Riverside Drive closed as the PG&E crew repaired the lines.

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