It could be a long weekend for hundreds of people who live in and own businesses in downtown Sioux Falls. Many of them are still without power as officials try to repair the damage from what they call the largest underground electrical fire in more than 20 years.
The fire started at about 4:37 a.m. on Friday and affected nine square blocks, from Phillips and Minnesota Avenues bordered by 8th and 11th Streets. Initially, 500 customers lost power but officials brought the total down to 200 customers by Friday afternoon.
Sioux Falls Fire Chief Jim Sideras expected frozen water pipes to be a big problem during the weekend and urged you to drain your pipes if you live downtown and do not have power. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
"This is a big deal. We saw it on TV this [Friday] morning, when we see fire coming out of a manhole cover that was blown almost a full city block away. That doesn't happen every day in our town," Mayor Mike Huether said.
Smaller scale incidents like this have happened, but Sideras says he has never seen anything like this.
"When there's underground explosions, it's a self contained tube. There's pressure that pops those manhole covers," Sideras said.
No one was hurt and officials say they have taken every safety precaution and have made sure there are no gas leaks that could spark more fires. Fixing the damage could be a long process, and has required extra crews from Minneapolis.
"The guys have told me, we're going to have to replace all of the electrical equipment. We're going to have to replace all of the electrical equipment below ground. It's completely damaged," Jim Wilcox with Xcel Energy said.
Huether hopes downtown businesses have backup plans, because electricity is not the biggest loss they face.
"Where it really becomes a negative is when this extends to not only a day, but two days or beyond. That's when it becomes critical and hits you in the pocketbook, more importantly it impacts your customers," Huether said.
MAP OF AREA WITHOUT POWER