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Cause of substation explosion under investigation

The cause of Sunday’s explosion of the St. Joe’s substation along Washington Street in Brainerd was not yet known Monday.

Brainerd Public Utilities (BPU) Superintendent Scott Magnuson said Monday the insurance company is investigating how the St. Joe’ substation exploded. Magnuson said the switch was 10 years old, but he couldn’t say if it malfunctioned or if the explosion was caused by something else.

The blast occurred about 1:45 p.m. at the substation which is next to D&D Plumbing on the south side of Washington Street. No one was injured in the explosion.

BPU reported the force of the blast was so powerful it moved the switch, estimated at 8,000 pounds or more, off its concrete foundation. Oil was thrown into the air splattering the sand outside the chain-link fence surrounding the high-voltage area.

Magnuson said crews will work this week with Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center on its second power feed.

President of Essentia Health Jani Wiebolt was in her office when she heard the explosion just a few blocks away down North Second Street. “It was a huge boom,” Wiebolt said. “I saw little kids running down Second Street.”

Jeremy Glaser, Essentia Health’s facilities manager, happened to be driving next to the transformer off Washington Street when the switch exploded.

“I was with my family and we were on our way to Baxter to run errands,” said Glaser. “We were just about to Hardee’s when it exploded. “I thought at first that we lost a back wheel, then I thought that we flipped up a manhole cover and it hit the car and then I thought that a train hit a car. This is all going through my head in less than a second. I looked around and I could see a ball of flame coming from behind us. My 4-year-old son said, ‘Whoa daddy that was really loud.’ And it was loud. In a way I was expecting (actor) Bruce Willis to come out.

“There was a lot of traffic at the time and everyone slowed down.”

Glaser went straight to the hospital to implement the emergency plan. Wiebolt said the hospital has a plan in place for such a contingency.

The hospital ran on generator power until the electricity was restored about 5 p.m. Sunday.

“We would be fine for a very long time,” she said.

Dave Danielson, Essentia Health’s facilities director, said the hospital has three emergency generators. Danielson said when the power goes out, the generators turn on automatically in eight seconds. Danielson said the generators have the ability to restore about 65 percent of the power in the hospital.

“It was good that he (Glaser) was close by because it (the explosion) impacted the hospital less,” said Danielson. “We have multiple feeds that are designed to run for the duration.”

Glaser said one of the electrical feeds was damaged during the explosion and BPU would be working on fixing the feed Monday.

“All in all, everything went incredibly smooth,” Glaser said of the hospital’s emergency plan.

Danielson said the cellphones didn’t work in the hospital during the aftermath of the explosion, but people were still able to commute in other ways.

Glaser said the engineers, security guards and others were notified of the power outage and BPU was on scene within an hour. Glaser said the cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at