BALTIMORE — Firefighters yesterday battled a railroad tunnel fire and began to clean up a hazardous material spill that shut down the heart of the downtown area and forced the postponement of Orioles’ baseball games at Camden Yards for the second consecutive day.
Commuters yesterday used mostly alternate routes — or stayed home — to avoid the smoke and congestion of emergency vehicles caused by the Wednesday afternoon derailment of a 60-car freight train carrying hazardous materials.
“A lot of credit needs to be given to commuters for using common sense. For tomorrow, people will have one day under their belts and will know what streets are open and what streets are closed,” said Michael Eaves, a traffic and news anchor at Metro Traffic in Baltimore.
More than 100 firefighters worked through Wednesday night to try to reach the fire in the one-and-a-half-mile tunnel below Howard Street, but were repelled by billowing smoke and by fumes from leaking chemicals. Two firefighters were in stable condition in Baltimore hospitals after suffering chest pains. The CSX Transportation train had nine cars carrying hazardous, nonflammable chemicals, and one of the cars carrying hydrochloric acid was leaking.
Last night, crews had begun pumping the hydrochoric acid from the derailed tanker into trucks on the street above; it had had been leaking 10 gallons a minute.
“We’re told some of the boxcars are actually glowing,” said Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a fire department spokesman. “You’re talking about glowing metal. I’m guessing 1,000 or 1,500 degrees.”
Chief Torres said six of the train’s 60 cars had been removed by yesterday morning. Workers had reached several derailed cars, one of which contained hydrochloric acid, and the fire was visible farther down the tracks.
Firefighters initially hoped to siphon the leaking 13,000-gallon tank of acid into an awaiting tanker, but the heat of the fire, which was estimated as high as 1,500 degrees, forced a change of tactics, said Mary Adams, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Fire Department. Firefighters attempted to cool the tanker by entering a manhole above it and spraying the car with water.
“It smells like a campfire, even in the conference room,” said Erin Golembewski, who attended a science conference in the downtown Holiday Inn yesterday.
While the smoke could be seen billowing out during the morning, health officials said there was no immediate public danger.
“People who are passing by in the open air are fine. People who can smell the smoke are not at risk. But the people in the tunnel could be in danger. The population at large does not need to be alarmed,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hasday, head of the pulmonary and critical-care medicine division at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson yesterday said that tests of the smoke content indicated no toxic chemicals and that three sewer outflows from the tunnel were being blocked off while tests were conducted.
A National Transportation Safety Board team was at the scene, but the cause of the derailment was not known. Mayor Martin O’Malley, who shut down many major thoroughfares into the city Wednesday night, said the fire caused a 40-inch water main to break around Howard and Lombard streets.
Baltimore Gas and Electric yesterday restored electricity to its 1,200 city customers whose power had been knocked out because of the water-main break.
The break also caused natural sediment in the city’s water lines to be stirred up, which caused brownish water to come out of faucets in nearby residences and businesses.
The fire seriously damaged nearby fiber-optic cables and slowed Internet service and other communications across the country. Keynote Systems, which measures Web sites’ performance, said the delay experienced by Internet users was the worst it has ever seen.
Fiber-optic cable for data, telephone and Internet run through the tunnel and were damaged by the blaze and smoke.
Telecommunications companies WorldCom, PSINet and Above-Net all reported problems with service, but had not yet measured the extent of the damage to cables or the number of customers affected.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday declined to second guess Mr. O’Malley’s decision to shut down the city Wednesday night.
“The governor talked to Mayor O’Malley himself to let him know he supports his actions and that the state will do anything it possibly can to help in the cleanup and after the emergency is over,” said Glendening spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. “(The Maryland Emergency Management Agency) is on the scene, and (the Maryland Department of Transportation) has been on site from the beginning.
The tunnel fire also caused the Baltimore Orioles, who play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards a block to the west, to cancel both games of yesterday’s doubleheader with the Texas Rangers. The previous evening’s game also had been canceled because of the fire.
The few fans who did show up yesterday afternoon still photographed each other in front of the Babe Ruth statue and the Eutaw Street entrance.
Mark Rathgeber, 42, of Carlisle, Pa., stayed the night with his family in a hotel after the Wednesday night game was postponed. He returned to the park yesterday only to find out there was still no baseball.
“I wanted my son to see Cal Ripken before he retires,” Mr. Rathgeber said. “It can only happen to me.”
One family in line for ticket refunds was in town from Kentucky.”It’s gotta be the first time there’s ever been a ballgame canceled because of a train derailment,” a fan said.
Margie Hyslop contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.