By Stephen Witt
An underground electrical fire resulted in the spewing of noxious-smelling steam and smoke
from a manhole cover that stunk up several blocks of Tompkins Avenue over the weekend.
Several local residents and business owners described the odor as smelling like urine mixed with
According to a barber at Domolieks Groom Saloon, 416 Tompkins, across the street from the
manhole cover, the explosion occurred sometime on Friday, Jan. 3 during the snowstorm, and the
noxious smell was very noticeable all day Saturday. The barber said he called authorities who
came down and put yellow tape around the manhole cover.
Con Ed spokesperson Robert McGee said the company was first notified of the problem at 12:28
a.m., early Sunday morning, July 5. A repair crew was sent out and the problem was repaired
by 8:30 that night. Sixteen customers had their service interrupted during this period.
“After snowstorms, salt often gets washed into our manholes and vaults, often eroding wires and
precipitating these kinds of smoking manhole or manhole fire events,”
said McGee. “We respond to these as quickly as we can based on the severity of the situation
and the customer impact, addressing the situations that require more immediate attention or that
have greater customer impact first.”
One resident who lives on the block said she has asthma and was concerned that the fumes were
toxic. “I put clothes under the doors and windows to keep the small out,” she said.
But McGee maintained the steam was not toxic “What burnt up was all secondary cables which is all rubber and plastics emitting the same smells that occur from typical building fires,” he said.
Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler said there were no calls to the community
board about the explosion. He also said there have been no calls of heat outages during this
recent cold wave.
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