OHIO - Fire in Electrical Cables Under Street, Blasts Pop Manhole Covers

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Title: Blasts Pop Manhole Covers

April 17, 2000


A fire in electrical cables underneath Huron Street downtown caused explosions that witnesses said blew two 350-pound manhole covers as high as 20 feet in the air and tore up a 10-foot-diameter circle of pavement late Sunday afternoon.

About a dozen people who were in the Ameritech building, 121 North Huron St., complained of scratchy throats and watery eyes from smoke that got into the building.

Some took oxygen from paramedics but declined to be examined at a hospital, said Lt. Ken Kantura, safety officer with the Toledo fire department.

The problem started with a short in the secondary electrical cable lines that are in a utility tunnel beneath Huron between Jefferson Avenue and Monroe Street.

The cable, which is 45 to 50 years old, is covered with lead, and when it burned, it created gas that fueled the explosions, said Jerry Goeckerman, a Toledo Edison foreman.

One explosion occurred in front of the Ameritech building; the other was farther north on Huron.

Toledo Edison Co. crews were expected to work through much of the night on the cables, with little or no disruption to electrical customers.

The three-lane street is expected to be open this morning with barrels around the torn-up pavement, Mr. Goeckerman said.

The explosions started shortly before 6 p.m., just as a demolition crew with C.S. Burge, Inc., was preparing to leave the building it was taking down in the 600 block of Jefferson near Huron. Fire officials last night said they did not know of a link between the demolition and the explosions, but were investigating.

Vice President Chuck Burge said he was packing up his things when he heard a loud bang. His wife told him she believed someone had just hit one of his huge trash receptacles by the street.

When he went to look, however, he said he saw a blue flame in front of the Ameritech building.

Jim Bennett, an equipment operator for C.S. Burge, was stepping off a crane when he saw a manhole cover fly about 20 feet into the air. He said he saw two explosions and heard three. He called 911 from his cell phone. The first help to arrive, however, was Dale Williamson, a city traffic signal technician who said he got a call from his dispatcher, asking him to place a barrel over a manhole cover.

When he arrived, he said, he saw green and orange flames that appeared to be 25 feet high for an instant, blowing off the second manhole cover. He said he smelled gas.

"It was like a boom, an explosion," Mr. Williamson said.

James Preston was talking on the telephone on a top floor of the Commodore Perry Apartments when he saw a manhole cover shoot 20 to 25 feet into the air, higher than the arches on the Ameritech building.

The friend to whom he was talking heard the explosion as well. Mr. Preston, a Coca-Cola account manager, described the smoke that he saw streaming from the manholes as light green, then dark green. Later, it became dark brown.

The fire department called Columbia Gas and Ameritech representatives to the scene to determine the cause of the explosion. Just after 6 p.m., firefighters were warning bystanders a block away to stay away from manhole covers. But shortly after 7 p.m., Lieutenant Kantura certified that the fire appeared to be out.

Fire officials tested the air in the Commodore Perry parking garage and other areas where people said they smelled odors and found it safe, he said.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 18, 2000

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