Snow, Salt To Blame For String Of Manhole Fires Around City
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Con Edison says snow and salt are to blame for a string of manhole fires around the city Monday.
In Harlem, three manholes burst into flames on 138th Street at the corners of Lenox Avenue and Powell Boulevard alone.
Area resident Duane Patrick says his truck was on top of a manhole when it blew, leaving him with $2,400 in damage.
"I heard a big 'boom,' right? So then my friend took a run into the building and told me my car had blown up, a lot of smoke. So I came running downstairs, opened up the door, plenty of black smoke. I had to wait for it to clear out," said Patrick.
“I heard this big boom and I looked out the window and I saw smoke coming from under the ground,” said evacuated resident Frederick Ingram. “At first I thought it was a car that blew up and then they were saying, Îno, it wasn't a car.’ So I come out and looked and it was a manhole.”
Con Ed says the fires triggered power outages in as many as 20 buildings.
The fires also contributed to high carbon monoxide levels in two buildings and a power outage at a nearby day care center.
"We had a day care center that self-evacuated,” said FDNY Chief George Carlin. “There were no problems in the day care center, just a loss of electricity. They called the parents and took them out just as a safety precaution, but there was no danger to the children over in the day care center.”
But, fire officials did say two children and two adults were treated at a nearby hospital and released after being overcome by fumes.
Some of the hundreds of residents evacuated in Harlem had some harsh words for Con Ed.
"Con Edison needs to upgrade their system," said one resident. "That's what they need to do, because basically, all their manholes are blowing... This is winter!"
"They need to step up on their game. They need to start taking care of their business, because this is ridiculous," added another resident, left out in the cold.
"I've been outside since 10:45 this morning," added another resident, well after sundown.
One resident did manage to take a philosophical approach to the inconvenience, however.
"It's minor in comparison to a lot of things that are going on, not only around the city, but around this country. So, it's a small thing, really," said Larry Woods.
And in Rego Park, Queens, the Fire Department says at least three manhole fires forced 25 residents to be temporarily evacuated.
The residents were able to return a short time later, but Con Ed says they remained without electricity by late Monday night. Buses with heat were available to residents at the scene.
Fire officials say they also had to break into about 60 homes to check carbon monoxide levels.
Con Ed says the fires occur every year when melting snow mixed with salt runs into the manholes, causing the insulation on underground cables to wear away, eventually sparking electrical fires.
Red Cross crews were on hand throughout the ordeals, offering food and hot drinks to anyone affected by the fires.