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FD: APS worker dead after underground fire in electrical vault

Posted at 11:56 PM, Jun 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 11:11:12-04

PHOENIX — A fire in an underground utility vault killed one worker, injured a second and cut power to numerous high-rise buildings Monday in downtown Phoenix, possibly for a few days, authorities said.

Phoenix Fire Department Capt. Rob McDade, said the electric vault caught fire just after 10:30 p.m. Sunday. One worker was out of the vault when crews arrived to find flames shooting out of a manhole. Phoenix police said the 46-year-old man had burns on his hands and face and was taken to a burn center for treatment. He was later released.

Phoenix police identified the worker who died as Ricardo Castillo, known to his co-workers as "Rico." The 12-year APS electrician was a husband, father, son and grandfather and worked in youth and men's ministry at his church, APS said. He would've turned 42 years old on Monday.

"A very humble and honest guy," said Pastor Arnold Aguila at Grace Walk Community Church. "He was a family man. He always made his family first."

Aguila told ABC15 Castillo made a huge impact in leading a youth program at the church known as "The Landing."

"He would take the youth out to eat all the time. They would turn away from drugs or self harm or wouldn't turn to them at all [because of Castillo]," said Aguila. "We're going to try to fill in the shoes that he's leaving behind because they're huge."

Friends said Ricardo loved his job at APS and knew the risk.

"He said they work with high voltage, and he said every time that [he] works, he puts his life on the line," said Aguila.

"We did get a chance to wish him a happy birthday. It's just so shocking that we talked to him yesterday and today he's gone," said Aguila. "We love him and we miss him and right now our prayers are with his family."

The fire broke out while Castillo and the other worker were replacing a power cable in the underground vault, APS said. An electrical flash triggered a fire. The utility and state workplace safety officials will investigate the cause.

Power was cut to the four major buildings downtown, including the main Maricopa County administration building. About 1,000 workers had to either take Monday off or work from home, county spokesman Fields Moseley said. Several other buildings had only partial power through the day.

Trials and hearings at the Maricopa County Superior Court complex were canceled Monday but were scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Courts spokesman Bryan Bouchard said the building had power but officials acted because of power outages in nearby buildings and traffic issues.

As of 7 a.m. on July 5, APS provided the following statement to ABC15:

"...The Wells Fargo building, the final customer impacted by Sunday's tragic accident, is now operating on temporary power provided by two generators. These generators will allow the Wells Fargo building to operate while APS makes permanent repairs to equipment damaged in the accident.

We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community, Phoenix Police and Fire Departments, our partners at the City of Phoenix and local businesses in the area. We thank our customers in the downtown corridor for their patience as crews worked around-the-clock to restore power safely."

"This is a loss that affects every one of the 6,300 APS employees," said Trevino. "Unfortunately, something went wrong today and that's what we will figure out."

Besides the main county building, APS reported that power was also completely off at the Wells Fargo Tower, Phoenix Municipal Building and Phoenix Civic Plaza South, which is the south building of the convention center.

It took longer to get power to the Wells Fargo building, which had its power restored on July 5.

The Sheraton Hotel and other buildings had only partial power.

Phoenix officials moved a planned Tuesday City Council meeting to the nearby Orpheum Theatre because City Hall was without power.

"The locations that lost all power were scattered throughout downtown because of the way electricity is fed to the area," Trevino said. The underground vault was fed with 1 1/2 inch cables that distribute power, and many buildings have more than one feed, explaining why some only partially lost power.

Light rail service in the area was delayed after the incident but has since returned to normal service.