The California Public Utilities Commission launched an investigation into the reliability of Pacific Gas & Electric?s indoor substations following a fire and outage March 26 at the utility?s Mission Substation. It was the third fire at that substation since 1996. The San Francisco Fire Department and PG&E are both separately investigating the fire. The latest fire came at an inopportune time for the utility. PG&E is already under CPUC investigation for a December 20, 2003, fire at the Mission Substation that caused 100,000 customers to lose power. On March 17, the CPUC ordered PG&E to show cause within 60 days why it should not face fines and penalties for allowing unsafe conditions to persist and failing to maintain its system in a safe and reliable manner, in violation of the state Public Utilities Code. The CPUC concluded that PG&E?s failure to implement its own recommended safety precautions following the first fire in 1996 at the Mission Substation?including installing smoke alarms and staffing all substations 24 hours a day?jeopardized the reliability and safety of its electric system and led to the 2003 fire. PG&E to date has paid $2.3 million to settle 2,398 claims from the 2003 fire and blackout, with seven additional claims still unresolved. The March 26 fire caused far less damage than the previous substation fires. It was contained faster because PG&E officials were alerted by a smoke detector and an on-site employee?both safety measures the utility adopted after the 2003 fire. As a result of the fire, 25,000 PG&E customers lost power for about five hours on a Saturday night when most businesses were closed but night life was ramping up. An unhelpful glitch was that a call made to the San Francisco Fire Department for deployment of a mobile carbon dioxide unit to help suppress the fire was not answered because of staff cutbacks, according to the <i>San Francisco Chronicle<\/i>. The latest blaze was sparked when a 12,000-volt circuit breaker failed and caught fire in a cabinet, said PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno. He stressed that the cause of the fire was unrelated to the 2003 fire, which was triggered by an aging cable with deteriorated insulation. The cable overheated, catching fire and spreading quickly to electrical equipment and other flammable materials located right above it. ?In this case it was within the equipment itself,? a critical circuit breaker that moves power, Moreno said. ?What made the difference in this case was we were able to respond much more quickly than in 2003.? PG&E tests its electrical equipment annually and has installed sprinkler systems over equipment that is particularly prone to fire, he said. The CPUC?s Consumer Protection and Safety Division investigated the 2003 fire and determined that a number of other factors besides the faulty cable contributed to the fire and widespread outage, which would have been avoided had PG&E followed its own recommendations after the 1996 fire. The commission found that PG&E was negligent in failing to install smoke detectors after the 1996 fire, to provide adequate training to utility operators who delayed taking action for two hours after the fire started, or to provide employees with written procedures for coordinating emergency response actions with local fire departments. Moreover, auxiliary equipment at the substation was improperly energized and short-circuited, sparking the fire, the CPUC concluded.