British Columbia’s public utility says it was warned that an underground electrical vault was a danger seven years before it blew up under a Vancouver street, injuring two people and badly damaging a city business.
BC Hydro president Chris O’Riley apologized for the blast last February, saying a third-party investigation found the fire and explosion was caused by a buildup of gases from a leaking gasket in the lid of an oil-filled switch.
O’Riley says 14 vaults, including the one on Burrard Street that exploded, were identified as high risk in 2016 by BC Hydro’s own assessment, which said failure to replace them could result in severe injury or death.
The assessment recommended the vault be updated by 2018, and while the utility says it moved to do so, that was delayed so it could upgrade another nearby vault.
The Crown-owned company says it has decommissioned the 13 other vaults that were identified in 2016, so they no longer present a risk.
O’Riley says a review of other street vault equipment is underway, with the first phase expected to be completed by this summer and the second phase complete by March 2024.
At a news conference Thursday, he said he was sorry to the people and businesses affected by the explosion, adding that safety is Hydro’s top priority and the fire and explosion should have never happened.
“It’s really important that the public have confidence in our infrastructure and that’s something that the public has had confidence in,” he said. “We recognize that it (has been) damaged by this incident, and it’s our job, our responsibility, to rebuild that. That starts with transparency and sharing what we know.”