By Richard Benke
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2000; 12:34 a.m. EST
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A grass fire
knocked out electricity to nearly 550,000 New Mexico
customers for up to three hours Saturday, snarling
traffic in Albuquerque, shutting down radio and
television stations and forcing the state high school
basketball tournament to halt play.
Candy Hurst, an adoption
supervisor with the state Department of Children,
Youth and Families, was in her downtown Albuquerque
office building during the blackout.
"I had to use my video camera
light to get down seven flights of stairs," she
The fire in the Four Corners area
burned a transmission line, which caused two power
plants to shut down, utility officials said. People
lost power from anywhere from 40 minutes to three
From Las Cruces to Gallup to
Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos, power went out
shortly before 5 p.m. It came back on, in phases from
south to north, after about 6 p.m. By 8 p.m., the
southern part of the state was fully restored and
Albuquerque was more than 85 percent restored,
officials said. More than half of
Santa Fe had its power restored. The outage began
with several sharp surges and then darkness. Power
came back on in about 15 minutes, then went out again
15 minutes later.
"We had a fire on one of our major
transmission lines from the San Juan Generating
Station (near Farmington) to Albuquerque," Grey said.
"It was caused by a grass fire."
The fire caused the Four Corners
Generating Station to "trip off line," Grey said. The
cause of the 4:45 p.m. blaze was not determined.
All of Public Service Company of
New Mexico's 360,000 customers statewide were
affected by the blackout, she said.
The same fire caused another
utility, Plains Electric, to lose power from its
plant that serves several northern New Mexico
communities. About 187,500 of Plains' 250,000
customers were blacked out, said spokeswoman Amy
Miller, bringing the total affected to about
The outage left traffic lights
out, causing major snarls throughout Albuquerque.
There was also a brief period of pandemonium at an
"Everybody just started
screaming," said Rebecca Lies, an employee at Stacy's
Hallmark at the Coronado Center. "So I got the
flashlight and I said, 'Just follow the light.'" She
led 10 to 15 people outdoors.
Damian Sutton, assistant manager
of Software Etc. at the Winrock mall, said all the
stores had to close and roll down their security
"We had to kick everybody out of
the store," he said, including about 30 customers at
an estimated cost in lost business of $2,000 to
A bartender at the Radisson Hotel
and Suites in Santa Fe was stuck in an elevator for
about half an hour, desk clerk Morgan Sweet said.
El Paso, Texas, also had a
citywide outage for about 30 minutes Saturday