Folks around the Rim country got a taste of what the potential Y2K disaster might be like when high afternoon winds caused a power outage for most of the area.
"At approximately 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, high winds in northern Arizona caused failures on the APS electric transmission system," said Arizona Public Service District Manager Jim Spencer. That failure resulted in a downed breaker transmission at the Childs-Irving Power Plant, and subsequent relay failure at Payson's Tonto substation.
The interruption of power left roughly 16,000 APS customers in the dark --including dozens of businesses --for about 40 minutes.
What would have been a relatively minor outage was exacerbated by the loss of the supervisory control center in Phoenix, Spencer said.
"An APS engineer normally can re-energize the transmission system from a computer in the Phoenix Energy Center," he said. With the relay problem at the Tonto substation, that solution was not an option. Local service crews were able to manually override the system by 5:42 p.m.
Another outage occurred at 11 a.m. when a 21,000-volt line went down, leaving about 3,500 area customers without power until about 2 p.m.
"All in all, April 7 was not a lucky day for APS, or for our Rim country customers," Spencer said.
The late afternoon outage left scores of shoppers roaming the darkened aisles at Wal-Mart. Store associates acted as seeing eye dogs and led their customers out of the store, said assistant manager Doug McDaniel.
"We just turned on the flashlights, got everyone rounded up and scurried them out the front of the store," McDaniel said.
Across the street at Safeway, persistent patrons were allowed to continue their grocery shopping as normal.
"We have backup generators, so it wasn't a big problem," assistant manager Gary Vohs said. "Our registers and our emergency lighting operates off a generator, so we could still check people out."
Gamblers at the Mazatzal Casino weren't inconvenienced by the loss of power either. General manager James McDermott said the lights and slot machines clicked off for only a few seconds before the casino's diesel generator kicked in.
"Other than some lights that were out and some computers that were down in the administration area, we were fully operational," McDermott said.