Pole fire knocks out power to whole island overnight

A pole top fire at the Pala’au Substation appears to have started from a contaminated insulator. The pole was replaced and power was back online by 6:30 a.m.

A pole fire knocked out power to all of Molokai shortly after 10 p.m. last night.

For over seven hours the entire island was blacked out. Maui Electric Company’s three primary electric generators on Molokai tripped offline causing an islandwide power outage affecting 3,156 MECO customers.

The initial cause of the outage was a pole top fire at the Pala’au Substation that appears to have started from a contaminated insulator, according to MECO Communications Specialist Kau’i Awai-Dickson.

Over time, insulators that hold the electric line to the pole can become soiled by salt spray and dust. When light rain falls on a contaminated insulator, the rain water creates a path from one end of the insulator to the other, causing an arc that can result in a fire.

The fire caused a fault on the electrical lines that resulted in a sudden drop in frequency, which set in motion an automatic generation load shed. A load shed is a safety mechanism that protects the electrical system during severe disruptions by turning off power to some or all customers.

MECO Molokai crews worked through the night to replace the pole and conduct repairs. Power restoration began shortly after 5 a.m. and all Molokai customers were back on-line by 6:30 a.m. this morning.

Molokai Drugs owner Kimberly Svetin said the blackout was the longest outage on Molokai in recent memory. Svetin called the police department Sunday night to watch all the Kaunakakai businesses during the blackout. At Molokai Drugs, Molokai General Store and Kamoi Snack ‘n’ Go a backup battery system kicked in, keeping phones and alarm systems online. Kamo’i was also able to save its ice cream from melting.

“Mahalo to the MECO guys who worked for 8-plus hours as well as police, fire, EMTs, and the graveyard crew at Molokai General Hospital,” wrote Svetin.

MECO extends a sincere apology to all of its customers on Molokai and thanks everyone affected for their patience and understanding.


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