Smoke in the Air: Underground Fire Blocks Center City Philadelphia Streets

Smoke began rising from the ground Wednesday morning at 9th and Walnut Streets in Center City signaling an underground fire. Police and firefighters were on the scene.

(Published Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017)

An underground electrical fire sent smoke billowing into the air as emergency crews brought traffic to a halt for hours on Center City streets Wednesday.

The fire broke out shortly before 8:15 a.m. sending heavy smoke and flames out of manholes and grates in the area of Will’s Eye Hospital at 9th and Walnut streets, Philadelphia police said. After more than an hour, smoke continued to pour into the air.

Commuters dealt with traffic troubles throughout the day as police blocked Walnut, Locust, 8th and 9th streets to vehicles and pedestrians into the afternoon.

PECO crews initially responded to an underground cable issue around 7:15 a.m., the utility said. While working to isolate the issue, a cable overheated.

The area includes theaters, medical buildings and restaurants. Videos on social media showed thick smoke billowing into the air.

The fire knocked power out to about 80 customers -- most along 8th Street -- at its height, PECO said. By 3 p.m. about 20 customers remained without power as crews continued to work.

It took sometime for crews to de-energize the sparking wire so that would could be done to repair it, PECO said.