Did Solar Storm Set Dozens of High Voltage Transformers on Fire across Northern Hemisphere?

Made curious by a comment under a Polish article, (Dec. 20, 2015), Po awarii w elektrowni atomowej w Rosji wybuchła panika [which Google Translate makes this of: “Panic following the accident at the nuclear power plant in Russia” ], I decided to look into it this evening.  I compiled a (likely very incomplete) list of transformer fires that all occured this past week.  The comment that caught my attention was:

2 elektrownie miały awarie w czasie gdy była burza magnetyczna wywołana rozbłyskami na słońcu – poczekjcie do jutra bo burza nadal trwa, a jak się skończy to wybuchną wulkany … obecna burza jest silna bo zorze było widać nawet na południu polski!  (translation added below photo)


2 power plants were shut down at the time when there was a magnetic storm caused by solar flares on the sun […] the storm is still ongoing, and [could affect?] volcanoes the current storm is strong because auroras could be seen even in Southern Poland!”

Both incidents (the release of radioactive steam at the nulcear power station near Saint Petersburg in western Russia; and a fire “outside the reactor” (likely a transformer fire) at the troubled nuclear plant in Tihange, Belgium) were mentioned in comments under last blog post.   (Last month, when the also-troubled reactor site of Doel, Belgium (right outside Antwerp) had a fire on Nov. 1, 2015, it was also a transformer fire, and also put out in 20 minutes.)

But what actually got me wondering is when I heard (on a Belgian radio station via the internet) of yet another: a high voltage transformer fire in the center of Gent, Belgium.  It made the news ’cause it caused the ice skating venue in the city center to melt.

So I wondered, “Is that it, or are there many more transformers catching fire?

Well: short answer: quite a bunch this past week, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely abnormal.  This blog posts lists what I found, and at the end there’s some solar activity data.   I have no real conclusion, just thought it was a worthwhile inquery.

A selection of this past week’s Electrical Transformer Fires:

  • Dec. 15, 2015 @ 5:40 am (= Dec. 15, 2015, 13:40 UTC): a “A massive industrial fire broke out Tuesday morning at a BC Hydro substation in Richmond” started with what “appears to have been a problem with a transformer.”   And, “[…] they still didn’t know exactly what happened, the transformer that caught fire is 44 years old, and at the end of its life. […]  Lebeter noted that while it’s not a usual occurrence, there have been transformer fires in the past, usually tied to aging equipment. […]
    SOURCE: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/firefighters+tackle+hydro+substation+fire+richmond/11590942/story.html



  • In Western Jakarta in Indonesia:  “[…] Large swaths of Jakarta and Tangerang were left without electricity for several hours on Wednesday afternoon after a fire at a transformer substation […] the power failure was caused by a fire that broke out at an interbus transformer (IBT) responsible for distributing electricity to other power stations, in Kembangan, West Jakarta, cutting the electricity supply. […]  The blackout started at 11:13 a.m. […]”   (= Wedn. Dec. 16, 2015 @ 4:13 am UTC)

Click Image for source.

  • A very brief mention in Norway about a ‘transformer fire in Os‘ (Hordaland) on Dec. 16, 2015 @ shortly before 19:43 UTC:


  • A transformer “burst into flames at about 10:15 a.m.” in Port Angeles, Washinton, USA (sorta between Seattle and Vancouver Island, where you can catch a ferry to lovely Victoria, BC) Thursday morning Dec. 17, 2015 (= Thursday, Dec. 17 2015, 18:15   UTC)



  • Le Quotidien – Very close to Quebec, Quebec, Canada:  “A fire of electrical origin probably completely destroyed the Antirouille Métropolitain (a company), located at 2489 Talbot Boulevard in Chicoutimi, around 21:30 Thursday night. The general alarm was triggered at 10:08 p.m. […]   In the words of the first witnesses on the scene, explosions occurred in electrical transformers located near the building which is a property of Gilles Lessard.[…] “

In UTC that’s Dec. 18, 2015 @ 2:30 am UTC.  Screenshot escerpt:




  • Greenwich, Connecticut, USA.  Friday morning, The Greenwich Daily Voice (in the northeastern US state Connecticut) reported that on Dec. 18, some time before 10 am: “Power Outage In Greenwich After Transformer Fire”.  The Greenwich Patch, however posted an update that stated that the cause of a power outage nearby was “not caused by a transformer fire”, but by downed power lines.  Whether or not a transformer fire actually occured wasn’t clarified.  Seems like there was a transformer fire and power lines were downed as a result, the latter is what caused the power outage to most.   Anyhow, the transformerf ire happened at 7 am (= Dec. 18, 2015 @ 12:00 UTC)  Here’s screenshots of excerpts of both:SoThereWasATransformerFireThenOrWhat_GreenwichConn_Dec18excerpt


  • In Cloyes-sur-le-Loir, France, “a substation caught fire due to a short circuit, this Friday, December 18, to 17 h 30 [Dec. 18, 2015 @ 16:30 UTC]  at Place Gambetta in the twon of Cloyes-sur-le-Loir.  70 people were temporarily without power. […]”  Click image for source:


  • ALready brought up, but including it here in the chronological list of a selection of transformer fire that all occurred this week: A transformer caught fire at the Tihange, Belgium Nuclear Power Plant, in the evening of Friday Dec. 18, 2015 @ 21:35 UTC.   They’re ‘investigating’.


  • A town named, ‘Macedonia’, near Cleveland, Ohio, USA lost power due to a transformer fire between 7pm and 7:30pm on Friday Dec. 18, 2015 (= Dec. 19, 2015 @ 00:00  UTC)


  • Not sure if this is normal or unusual, but the Keene, New Hampshire, USA had 4 “wire/transformer calls” on record for Dec. 20-21, 2015.  A query for more articles mentioning ‘transformer’ showed that they’re not a daily thing.  Previous mention was Oct. 29, when there were 17 such calls.  The previous mention dated back to May 2015, when a storm knocked out power and there were 10 wire/transformer calls.   There is no storm in New Hamshire now, so 4 calls over 2 days seems worth including in this list.  (Dec. 19, 2015 @ 19:55 UTC; Dec. 19, 2015 @ 22:25 UTC; Dec. 20, 2015 @  11:16 UTC; and Dec. 21, 2015 @ 01:50 UTC)


The mysterious spate of global transformer fires continues…:


  • Screenshot above: a report from Sonnenalpe Nassfeld, Austria: “[…]  Der Mann, der sich gegen 7.30 Uhr gerade auf dem Weg zur  Arbeit befand, bemerkte, dass in einer Trafostation in Sonnenalpe Nassfeld ein Brand ausgebrochen war. Er informierte die Rezeption des Hotels. Von dort aus wurde über die Landesalarm- und Warnzentrale die Feuerwehr alarmiert.   Der entstehende Brand im Hochspannungstrafo konnte von den Einsatzkräften rasch gelöscht werden. […]”

So that High Voltage Transformer Fire (noted by a passerby, who told staff of a nearby hotel, who called the fire department.  4 departments responded with 80 people involved) was already burning Dec. 21, 2015 @ 6:30 am UTC.

24 hours later, a little to the west in Switzerland:

“…Was genau zum Brand geführt hat, ist noch unklar….”


 “[…] a fire had broken out in an underground transformer station […] shortly before 8.45 am. […] According to the power station […], fire resulted from 8.17 am to a power failure between Irchel, Berninaplatz, Bucheggplatz and at the Wehntalerstrasse. […]   What exactly has led to fire, is still unclear.[…]


  • An electric transformer on the bridge caught fire in Центрально-Городского, Krivoy Rog, (Central City area), Ukraine (west of Zaporizhia).  “The man reported the burning transformer on the suspension bridge near the Central District Police Station of the city of Krivoy Rog.” Russia_2

The report came from https://1kr.ua/news-24240.html  , which mentioned the date as Dec. 21, 2015 but not a time.  he report was posted in the afternoon at 16:25 local time, so some time before 14:25 UTC.

About this week’s Solar Storm:

From SPACE WEATHER. COM:   “Winter nights are supposed to be long and dark. This week they have only been long. Auroras around the Arctic Circle have wiped out the darkness with displays like this:

“It was a beautiful evening in the Yukon,” says Joseph Bradley, who took the picture on Dec. 20th. “The lights came out early and–WOW–what an amazing show. It had me running all over the place. Fellow photographer Jono and I had a great 4 hour run!!”

The lights Bradley saw were ignited by a CME strike on Saturday, Dec. 19th. The impact caused intermittant G1 and G2-class geomagnetic storms for nearly two days. Those storms are subsiding now.


Here’s Geomagnetic Activity (in nanoTesla) from Tromso, Norway, on which I marked the last week, and the times of the reports shown above (though just seeing a correlation, or not, DOES NOT per se mean that there’s a causal link, or not! – I’m simply noting things.):


  • Conclusion?

If the CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) hitting Earth’s magnetic field had been strongly correlated with all these transformer fires, I would be very much inclined to suspect that many might have been caused by that, but that not being the case,…  now I simply don’t know.  Maybe some were.

I was surprised to find well over a dozen transformer fires for just this past week alone, though, but since most actually happened earlier in the week and thus did not coincide with the major solar storm that hit hardest over the weekend, the correlation is to weak (in my non-expert opinion) to establish a link between the two.   I would need to keep searching the same data for prior weeks and see if this was an uptick in transformer fires, or not, and so forth.  (Go at it if you feel inclined to take this vein of research further!)  But it remains an interesting possibility, not?

  • EXTRA background:

Why this matters?  A massive CME striking Earth could be disastrous.  And nuclear power plants could be very badly affected as well.  If the induced currents in electrical and electronic circuits are strong enough, it might even fry the back-up generator systems that are essential to maintain cooling when grid power is lost.  In other words: however unlikely the odds seems now, a Carrington-like event could very unleash multiple nuclear meltdowns around the world.  Unless this irrespnsible technology is turned off, it pretty much is only a matter of time…

Wikipedia: The solar storm of 1859, also known as the Carrington event:

“[…]   On September 1–2, 1859, one of the largest recorded geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains in the US were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.[5] People in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.[7] The aurora was visible as far from the poles as Sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal, Mauritania, perhaps Monrovia, Liberia), Monterrey and Tampico in Mexico, Queensland, Cuba and Hawaii.[8]

Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks.[9]  Telegraph pylons threw sparks.[10]  Some telegraph operators could continue to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies […]”

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