CARACAS – Blackouts blamed on forest fires affected a large swath of northern and central Venezuela, including Caracas, officials said.
The power outages began around 3:35 p.m. Thursday due to the collapse of electrical lines located 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Caracas, Electrical Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez said.
The minister said power was gradually restored and that an hour and a half after the blackout technicians only needed to “recover 25 megawatts of the more than 5,000 (megawatts of capacity affected) by this interruption.”
According to government figures, current demand in Venezuela uses 16,650 megawatts of a total of 17,922 megawatts of power generating capacity.
The blackout may have been caused by a forest fire and “it is likely” the blaze was set intentionally, Rodriguez told state-run VTV television, although he said he cannot affirm that categorically.
Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said the power outage did not lead to any breakdown in “public order,” although he acknowledged it did prompt major transportation disruptions.
Transportation and Communications Minister Francisco Garces said port and airport operations were operating normally, while the head of the Caracas Metro, Haiman el Troudi, said “controlled evacuations” were necessary to move passengers to arrival platforms.
Similar measures were taken to assist stranded rail passengers, including moving one train with 400 passengers on board to a station located 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Caracas, the president of the state-controlled railroad company, Franklin Perez, said.
The blackout occurred several days after Rodriguez announced that no power rationing would be necessary even though demand had risen and currently uses more than 16,000 megawatts of generating capacity.
Rodriguez announced on April 1 that Venezuela would purchase energy from Colombia until the supply problems are resolved.
President Hugo Chavez’s government plans to add an additional 16,195 megawatts of capacity to the national power grid through 2015 after announcing a $30 billion investment program to modernize the electricity system, which was nearly crippled in early 2010 amid a severe drought.
That crisis, in which water supplies dried up at key hydroelectric dams, forced the government to enact nationwide rolling blackouts – except in Caracas – to ration electricity. EFE