Fire in the hole! Salty snowmelt sparks Kensington blaze

Fire in the hole! Salty snowmelt sparks Kensington blaze
Photo by Michael J. Carrasquillo

Things were certainly popping in Kensington as the Blizzard of 2010 melted on Sunday.

A car parked near the corner of Vanderbilt and E. Second streets was destroyed when salt-water-drenched underground Con Edison wires ignited, setting off two massive explosions that rattled the usually quiet neighborhood.

“I heard a very loud ‘boom’ sound,” shutterbug Michael Carrasquillo, who snapped up all the action, told us. “Then about 20 minutes later there was another ‘boom’ — it shook my apartment about half a block away.”

The underground blaze started at 2:58 pm. Gases quickly built up, causing a manhole cover to pop. The underground fire then spread above ground to a nearby vehicle.

When firefighters arrived, smoke was pouring out of the manhole and the car’s undercarriage had caught fire.

Firefighters put out the car fire quickly, but then had to wait for Con Edison to shut off power to the street before they could tackle the combusting wires.

Residents were without electricity for about an hour as firefighters smothered the underground blaze with fire retardant chemicals, explained an FDNY spokesman, who added that there were no injuries.

It’s clear that the damaged Con Edison wires were to blame, but Chris Olert, a spokesman for the utility, said the fire was just a sign of the season: Salty snow sometimes corrode cables and spark electrical fires, he said.

“Water alone doesn’t impact the system, but in the winter the city uses salt to melt the snow and ice,” explained Olert. “We see the incidents increase in direct proportion to the volume of salt used. If there’s a nick in the cable, there’s a possibility that the salt will cause the cable to smolder.”

Power was restored within a few hours.

Firefighters doused the burning car with thick fire retardant near the corner of Vanderbilt and E. Second streets on Sunday.
Photo by Michael J. Carrasquillo