Underground fire darkens part of Charleston

Charleston Daily Mail photo by Tom Hindman Smoke billows from under a manhole cover Thursday at the intersection of Virginia and Hale streets in Charleston. The fire left 10 to 12 downtown city blocks in the dark. Appalachian Power did not have a damage assessment or estimated restoration time Thursday night.
Charleston Daily Mail photo by Tom Hindman Smoke billows from under a manhole cover Thursday at the intersection of Virginia and Hale streets in Charleston. The fire left 10 to 12 downtown city blocks in the dark. Appalachian Power did not have a damage assessment or estimated restoration time Thursday night.
Charleston Daily Mail photo by Tom Hindman
Smoke billows from under a manhole cover Thursday at the intersection of Virginia and Hale streets in Charleston. The fire left 10 to 12 downtown city blocks in the dark. Appalachian Power did not have a damage assessment or estimated restoration time Thursday night.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several downtown city blocks were darkened Thursday evening after a fire broke out underground at the Virginia and Hale street intersections.

Smoke billowed from under a manhole cover in the intersection for more than an hour Thursday. Pops and bangs sounded from beneath the cover.

Kanawha Metro 911 dispatchers said it appeared an underground transformer had blown, but Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said it wasn’t immediately clear what happened. He said the fire could have been a transformer, but that there also are cables underground.

“Once we knew that was happening we de-energized the underground network in the area to prevent more damage to our equipment from taking place,” Moye said. “The longer you leave it on, the more likely more of our facilities would be damaged.”

That took a number of buildings and lights in the area off line, leaving scores of businesses and hundreds of residents without power.

Chuck Grishaber at the Kanawha County Emergency Operations Center said electricity was out in 10 to 12 blocks, from Court Street east to Brooks Street and from Washington Street south to the Kanawha River. Traffic lights also were out in that area. Motorists should remember to treat intersections with inactive traffic lights as if it were a four-way stop. That area includes several office towers, restaurants and other businesses. St. Francis Hospital was operating with the use of a generator, he said. Grishaber was unclear on the status of Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital.

Charleston Newspapers also is included in that area. Charleston Newspapers staff were working to publish both the Charleston Daily Mail and the Charleston Gazette late Thursday night with the use of a generator…

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