- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — An underground fire sent smoke and flames shooting from a manhole early yesterday near City Hall and damaged electric cables, including one that feeds a traffic light system, a city fire department spokesman said.

More than 1,400 state employees and nearly 1,000 city employees had the day off because there was no electricity at their offices, including the headquarters of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; the Maryland Insurance Administration; the Clarence Mitchell courthouse and City Hall.

“It’s only bright in here because the sun is shining,” said Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for the utility Baltimore Gas & Electric, who was at City Hall.

There were no reports of injuries or serious traffic problems. Drivers at intersections with Charles Street, the city’s main northbound avenue, which did not have functioning lights, stopped before moving forward to check for oncoming traffic and pedestrians. At other intersections, police officers directed traffic.

“It’s moving smoothly — drivers have gotten into a rhythm,” said David Brown, a spokesman for the city transportation department.

The Department of General Services said yesterday afternoon that all six of the state buildings closed because of the fire and power outage would be open today.

Miss Foy said last night that only City Hall and the Municipal Employees Credit Union building remained without power.

Power to most traffic lights was restored yesterday afternoon. But the lights, while working, were not synchronized with one another, said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O’Malley. She said the transportation department would be able to reset that program from a central location.

Nonessential city employees who work in buildings in an area of roughly 50 blocks — bounded by Monument Street, Fallsway, Baltimore Street and Charles Street — were told to stay home yesterday.

Jurors summoned to the Baltimore Circuit Court also had the day off because of the power outage at the courthouse, said Rita Beyer, a spokeswoman with the court information office.

About 12:30 a.m., a caller to 911 reported a manhole explosion near City Hall, Miss Foy said. Firefighters found smoke and flames shooting from a manhole at Guilford Avenue and Fayette Street. The fire was out before the morning rush hour, although some smoke was still coming from one manhole, said Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department.

BGE crews worked to make the underground area safe so they could take a good look at the damage to determine its extent and the cause of the fire.

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