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Story by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald
Published on Monday February 21, 2011 - 1:42 AM
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"I heard a loud boom that shook the house and saw a red glow light up the inside of the house through the window", said 86-year old Bonnie Benedict who lives next to the substation at 600 4th street. "I ran to look out the window and saw black smoke and fire coming from the (PG&E) site. And soon there were fire trucks, lots of lights, and sirens."

Benedict said she saw the same thing happen at this PG&E site a few years ago. She said the site was originally owned by the Newberg Friends Church, which adjoins the PG&E substation today. She said the lot remained empty for years since she came to Newberg back in 1949. "It was used as a Carnival but was mostly a vacant lot until PG&E took over with their electrical substation."

Another resident who preferred to be identified only as Elizabeth resides a block from the substation. She said she was brewing coffee when her house was suddenly rocked with a "...booming explosion."I thought it was a bomb. Everything shook. Even spoons and a dish moved on the counter. There was a really brilliant light, a reddish light. I was scared. Really scared. I thought we were being attacked."

18-year-old Dena Reed said she awoke to the explosion and ran to the window. "There was black smoke coming from (the site), kinda thin and dark gray." She and her sister, who live at 402 Howard St, said their mother's car was covered in oil.

Another resident on Howard Street, who identified himself only as James, first heard popping sounds before the explosion, which woke him. His Chevy SUV was heavily spotted with oil debris.

Janet Eng lives just west of Memorial park on Dayton Ave. She came to the park with her kids a few hours after the explosion. She said she also woke to a "big boom and saw heavy black smoke from the direction of the substation. After she heard reports at the scene that there may be contamination of oil and PCB on the playground and grass, she decided to remove her kids. Later the Newberg Police Department closed the playground at Memorial Park for two or three hours as PG&E cleanup crews wiped down the swings and slides.

A woman, who lives next to Memorial Park and desiring not to be identified, said she saw men wiping the swings and slides but as far as she could tell, "… they didn't do much of a job".

Angel Tzintzun at 506 4th street lives with two teen daughters. "I heard a really big explosion. I didn't know what it was", he said excitedly. "It really shook the house. I could see lots of black smoke across the street."

Walt Hanauska, PG&E Crew Foreman, couldn't allow our reporter inside the substation but he was very helpful and had one of his crew use our press camera. One of the photos he took was used on Saturday's story. They show the oil circuit breaker, blown-out, distorted, tossed far to the side of its original position.

EPA field scientist Dan Heister told The Oregon Herald he was basically satisfied that the public is in no real danger, mostly because the old circuit breakers contain only 12 parts per million of PCBs. In a few days, he'll release the results of testing by the EPA for PCB levels in the immediate area. The Oregon Herald will publish the EPA finding on those levels.

In the long run, the general feeling seems to be by the professionals that yes, this sort of expulsion of oil containing some PCB levels does happen now and again, and it's the cost of technology, the world in which we live. In addition, short of spending millions of dollars for further clean up, there realistically may be nothing more that can be done. At least nothing more that will be done.

Residents concerned about oil and PCB levels and the safety of their children and pets when they walk and play in Memorial Park or in their own backyard, may wish to wait until the EPA is ready to publish PCB levels. Each person will have a bit more information to decide what, or what not to do.