- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

Another underground manhole fire in Georgetown yesterday left at least 1,600 Pepco customers including residents, restaurants and businesses sweltering in the heat without power, infuriating city officials and frustrating shop owners.
"Were sick and tired of this," said D.C. Emergency Management Director Peter LaPorte. He said city officials will be talking to Potomac Electric Power Co.s management about the repeated manhole incidents in Georgetown. Yesterdays fire, which sent smoke pouring out of three manholes and flames shooting from two others, is the fourth manhole fire in Georgetown in four weeks.
Hundreds of utility customers were suddenly without power about 3:30 p.m. yesterday, and traffic ground to a halt along the M Street business corridor between 28th and 31st streets NW as firefighters hurried to put out the flames.
William Quick was in the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the corner of M and Thomas Jefferson streets when, he says, he saw the stores lights flicker.
"I came outside and I saw smoke coming from the manhole by SunTrust Bank [on 30th and M streets]," Mr. Quick said. "Five minutes later, I heard a bang come from the manhole."
D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said no one was injured in the blaze, which he believes started in one place and spread beneath the ground to five separate manholes.
As of last night, according to Pepco spokeswoman Nancy S. Moses, the company didnt know the cause of the fire.
Pepco spokesman Robert Dobkin said it may have been started by the shorting out of a 13,000-volt wire in one of the manholes.
Though there were no reports of manhole covers popping off the ground yesterday, the rash of flipping covers and underground fires during the past year has marred Pepcos image.
The company replaced many of the older, solid manhole covers along sidewalks and street crossings last year with slotted covers designed to allow gases to escape before pressure can build up and dislodge them.
In May, Pepco announced plans for a three-year, $30 million rewiring of the aging matrix of electrical wires beneath Georgetown.
"These incidents continue to drive home the message theres a strong need to do the $30 million rewiring project we announced last month," Mrs. Moses said.
But Mr. LaPorte sent out a warning to the company last night that there needs to be what he calls "a sense of urgency" about getting the problem under control.
Mrs. Moses said the rewiring of the M Street business corridor will begin when Pepco works out complications with the city over access to the wires beneath the streets and sidewalks. "Our company is eager to begin … right away," she said.
Numerous businesses along M Street closed early yesterday after officials predicted the power would be out well past midnight.
Abdul Idelbi, owner of Cafe Cafe on M Street, near the fire, said his shop would lose about $7,000 because of the unexpected power outage.
"I will have to throw away ice cream and meat products due to the loss of power," Mr. Idelbi said. "The outages are becoming regular. … Its killing me."
Jamie Peacock, director of operations for Hotel Monticello of Georgetown on Thomas Jefferson Street, said the hotel hallways went dark about 3:30 p.m.
"We were prepared for it this year," Mrs. Peacock said as she helped patrons of the hotel through the dark corridors.
A similar manhole incident about this time last year caused the hotel to lose about $4,000, she said.
City officials provided three air-conditioned Metro buses for residents to cool off, as well as an overnight shelter at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where residents could spend the night in an air-conditioned facility with Red Cross staff on hand.

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