July 09, 2015
An underground fire that caused smoke and flames to billow from manhole covers and power outages, evacuations and trapped people in elevators in Old City has reportedly been put out.
Smoke and flames were seen coming up from manholes near Second and Walnut and Third and Market streets.
The fire was said to be the result of an underground transformer explosion.
Emergency crews and PECO were called to the scene at about 10:30 a.m. and several buildings on and around Walnut Street were evacuated and roads closed to traffics.
About 25 people are still without power, all within the area of Second and Walnut streets, PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said.
Fire crews left around 2 p.m., but PECO will remain on the scene to restore power to blacked out areas affected by the underground fires ranging from Front to Sixth streets and Chestnut to Chancellors streets, fire officials said.
A timetable for restoring power remains unclear.
"We don't know if we're an hour away or four hours away," said one fireman, who declined to give his name because he was unauthorized to speak to the media.
PECO officials are still working to determine the cause and the source of the fire, they said.
Carbon monoxide detectors are going off in the area, but fire officials say they are working to bring carbon monoxide levels down to the appropriate level.
Several people were safely removed from an elevator stuck in the Society Hill Towers around 11:15 a.m., fire officials said.
Chrissy Pappas, an innkeeper at The Thomas Bond House, located at 129 S. Second Street, was at a dentist appointment nearby when she observed smoke coming out of nearby manholes.
"A minute later, all the power went out," she said. "The manhole covers were still smoking."
Pappas said people from nearby buildings, including The Moravian condominiums, evacuated into Welcome Park before being pushed back farther by fire officials.
Smoke continued to rise from the manhole covers, Pappas said, changing from "brown to red to black."
A pair of union electricians protesting on Walnut street also witnessed black smoke pouring from a manhole cover.
A crowd of about a dozen onlookers initially gathered at the scene, they said.
"A flame shot out and everybody ran," one electrician said, declining to give his name.
They also reported hearing three "big bangs" as fire and PECO officials worked at the scene.
Fire authorities opened the manhole cover and extinguished the fire.
PhillyVoice staff writer John Kopp contributed to this report.