Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Another Manhole Fire

Posted by Dan Draney on August 17, 2005

In Boston on the bus from the hotel to the train station the driver had the radio playing. The newscaster said, “… and there’s another manhole fire in the North End.” This struck us as peculiar. We’d never heard of a manhole fire before, but apparently in Boston they’re an everyday thing, as common as threatening messages from al-Qaeda.

The CBS affiliate in Albany, NY, provides the details on this particular incident, which actually involved multiple flaming manholes:

“BOSTON – Up to a half-dozen manholes are burning in the North End. Power has been shut off to much of the area along Hanover Street as a result of the fires, and some residents have been evacuated.

Flames and thick black smoke can be seen shooting out from at least one manhole on Hanover Street. N-Star electric company is on the scene to investigate. A spokeswoman says it appears that today’s explosion was caused by a cable failure.”

So “today’s explosion,” eh. Not just a fire, but an explosion, and again it seems these sorts of incidents are a dime a dozen. Apparently these Bostonians take their cable TV service very seriously, if a simple cable failure can cause such chaos.

Perhaps there is a more sinister explanation. It has long been known that Cleveland is atop a hellmouth, so could Boston be in the same situation? What’s the real reason for all the money being poured into The Big Dig? Could the Feds be looking for something? Has all the earth moved in the process disturbed some ancient evil, something worse even than John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy?

Chief Frank Montagna of the FDNY provides the official explanation for the manhole fire phenomenon:

“This is the electric manhole fire season in those areas where cold weather, snow, and slippery roadways necessitate the placement of ice-melting salt onto roadways to make them safe. When the salt is put on top of slick roads, the result is a melting of the ice and snow that coats them. As a result, the roadway becomes safely passable but at a price. The mixture of salt and melted snow and ice filters into manholes, coating the underground electrical wiring and equipment. This salt-water cocktail is very corrosive and causes the wiring, transformers, and other elements of the underground electrical delivery system to deteriorate, sometimes resulting in arcing exposed wires. The arcing, burning wire generates various toxic and combustible gases including high concentrations of carbon monoxide and neoprene gas. These gases are contained in the black noxious smoke billowing out of the manhole at a manhole fire.”

That may explain the situation in New York. However, we couldn’t help noticing there was a distinct lack of snow and ice on the Boston streets in mid-August. There is also this from the Chief:

Firefighters responding to these incidents should be aware of the many hazards that may accompany this phenomenon.
1. The black smoke can at any moment suddenly ignite, exposing people and vehicles nearby. A person inside a car parked over such a manhole would be severely injured or killed should the smoke ignite as he tried to move the parked car away from the manhole.
2. The ignition can be explosive, sending the 300-pound manhole cover flying into the air. Manhole covers have been blown onto the roofs of six-story buildings and have gone up in the air only to come crashing down through the roofs of passing vehicles.[…]”

So we don’t think the hellmouth theory should be discarded just yet. Those flying 300-lb manholes could indicate some demonic tiddlywinks game.

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