A fire that completely destroyed an Arkansas co-op substation left more than 1,000 members without power late last week as crews worked to restore service.

"I've seen a few substation fires, but I've never seen one that's done such total destruction," said Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative. "We believe the fire caused at least $2 million in damage."

The fire, which occurred just before 3 a.m. on June 7, was believed to have been caused by a lightning strike at the co-op's 20-year-old Southland substation in Mountain Home, which serves about 1,100 members along the western edge of North Arkansas EC's service territory.

"Flames were shooting 20 to 30 feet into the air and the fire burned so hot, many of the substation components were warped and melted by the heat," said Coleman, adding that co-op personnel began damage assessment once flames were extinguished. "We had crews on scene before daylight working to build the necessary facilities to accommodate a temporary substation on the grounds of the damaged facility."

The co-op's generation and transmission provider, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., dispatched a mobile substation from its Little Rock headquarters, about 150 miles away, to Mountain Home early Friday. Once it arrived, work began immediately to connect it and attach it to the grid.

"That substation took nine months to a year to construct," Coleman said. "Our men had a temporary substation built from the ground up within 12 hours."

The fire occurred hours after the North Arkansas EC's annual meeting in Salem, where Coleman updated a crowd of more than 5,000 attendees, including co-op members and their families, on co-op plans for the upcoming year and reliability issues.

Crews completed connections to the temporary equipment and restored service to the 1,153 affected members just before 1 a.m. on June 8, about 20 hours after the fire was out.

The G&T and its sister service cooperative, Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., will make personnel and equipment available to help North Arkansas EC build a replacement for the fire-damaged facility.

"We provide construction and maintenance services for substations," said Rob Roedel a spokesman for AECC. "We worked with North Arkansas Electric to utilize the mobile substation to restore service to members as quickly and efficiently as possible. Later, we will be available to work with North Arkansas to rebuild the structure."

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