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Manhole fires, explosion in midtown injure 6; buildings evacuated, FDNY says

The manhole explosions rattled 32nd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues in midtown Manhattan around 10 a.m., according to the FDNY.

Manhole explosions in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday injured

Manhole explosions in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday injured four people and forced several building evacuations, the FDNY said. Photo Credit: Alison Fox

Six people were injured and several evacuations were ordered Wednesday following a series of manhole fires that sparked a small explosion in the cellar of a building in midtown, the FDNY said.

The explosion rattled 6 E. 32nd St., between Fifth and Madison avenues, around 11 a.m., according to fire officials. Firefighters had been on the scene for just over an hour, battling the manhole fires and testing the air for toxins, when the explosion occurred, FDNY deputy assistant chief Michael Ajello said.

"[We] began to do our examination of the surrounding buildings for carbon monoxide, natural gas … While conducting that investigation, a small flash smoke explosion happened in that same address," Ajello said of the blast. 

It's believed that the manhole fires and a buildup of carbon monoxide caused the explosion, an FDNY spokesman said.

“There’s a point of entry for the electrical service underground, which is in a metal conduit, which brings the electric into the building," Ajello explained of how the fire got into the cellar. "The products of combustion from that fire also entered through that point." 

Parth Shah, 22, was working at a newsstand on Fifth Avenue near the corner of 32nd Street when he said he suddenly heard "only the blast — boom!" 

Five firefighters and a building superintendent from 6 E. 32nd St. suffered non-life threatening injuries, per the FDNY. 

Two buildings — 16 32nd St. and 12 32nd St. — were evacuated as a precaution, according to Ajello and another fire official. Investigators believe the fire, which affected four or five manholes, started in Con Edison wiring and infrastructure under the roadway.

"The carbon monoxide levels were high... and now we have them back way down," Ajello added.

The utility is in the process of turning the power off to buildings in the area. The FDNY will remain on the scene until all of the power is cut so that they can lower the elevators and make sure everyone is accounted for.


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