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On Monday morning, Station 3 was buzzing — literally.

The Santa Monica Fire Department’s facility near the intersection of Arizona Avenue and 19th Street had just lost power, prompting the activation of backup electricity.

“Firefighters heard the generator kick on,” Battalion Chief Jeff Furrows said, “and that caused them to go out and investigate.”

What crews found was a tree branch that had apparently fallen on power lines in the 1300 block of Montana Avenue, about a mile away, causing an outage in the surrounding area. There was no fire to put out, though, so they notified Southern California Edison and waited for maintenance crews to arrive.

It was just the latest in a string of transformer-related incidents in the city in recent months. Local firefighters have responded to at least five such problems in the last 10 weeks and 10 since mid-September, according to a Daily Press analysis of department activity.

But it’s a spate that is pretty consistent with what the department has seen in the past, Furrows said.

The problems involving transformers — electrical devices that transfer energy — are typically due to aging equipment, weather conditions or airborne objects.

Usually, when tree branches, balloons or birds causes a short in the system, Furrows said, an automated detector activates a mechanism that cuts power to the affected transformer and the facilities it feeds.

“What really gets a lot of these are metallic balloons — like those ‘Happy birthday!’ balloons,” Furrows said. “People let those go, they’ll float up into the contacts on the wires or transformers, and they create a contact bridge and sometimes do significant damage. That’s where we see the scary stuff.”

In recent months, Santa Monica firefighters have been able to clear transformer-related incidents relatively quickly, often within half an hour.

But these kinds of events have the potential to be more involved and more dangerous, as locals learned last year when the explosion of a transformer led to a fire that damaged several 2nd Street apartment units and displaced one family.

In that case, Furrows said, an equipment failure allowed electricity to continue flowing through the affected transformer after the surge was detected.

But Furrows stressed that the May 15 scenario was unusual, and a sampling of recent SMFD incidents confirms the common but relatively benign nature of transformer-related problems.

In the early morning Aug. 16, firefighters responded to a report of a transformer fire on the 1100 block of 16th Street. They found no flames and cleared the scene within a couple minutes.

On the night of Oct. 31, the local fire department was called to a possible transformer fire on the 2800 block of Main Street. In that case, which Furrows said was weather-related, crews monitored arcing wires for about 20 minutes and contacted Edison for maintenance.

In the afternoon Nov. 27, a transformer fire was reported in the 2300 block of Schader Drive, near the intersection of Cloverfield and Santa Monica boulevards. Blown fuses on a power pole caused a short outage in the area, but authorities quickly made the necessary repairs and no injuries were reported.

On the morning of Jan. 26, a transformer overheated near the 1400 block of Lincoln Boulevard, and a power line broke into several pieces that fell into an alley. Firefighters determined that the downed pole-to-pole line segments were not hazardous, remaining on the scene until maintenance crews arrived.

“We have had transformer fires,” Furrows said, “but they’re rare.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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