Blaze Forces Evacuations in Ohio

An underground electrical fire forced the evacuation of two downtown Akron buildings Wednesday and shut down some Summit County offices and the County Courthouse.

The two-alarm fire was reported at 10:02 a.m. in an underground vault at Church Street and Maiden Lane, sending black smoke billowing from a manhole. Smoke also leaked from the bases of streetlights.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, said Akron Fire Department spokesman Ed Sturkey.

Ohio Edison said the fire caused about $40,000 in damage to the underground lines and equipment, but the lines were largely intact, and electrical service was maintained in the downtown area, he said.

The Akron Fire Department evacuated the 10-story Key Building at 159 S. Main St. and the Ohio Building at 175 S. Main St. as a precaution, after smoke leaked into both buildings.

The fire department used a foam truck to extinguish the fire.

Water was run from a pumper truck to the foam truck, and the foam was then funneled into the underground vault to snuff out the fire. Excess foam cascaded down the hill on Church Street to South Main Street, where curious onlookers gathered in the rain.

The fire was under control about noon, but it was another hour before it was completely out, Sturkey said.

One Ohio Edison employee was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, Sturkey said.

Thirty-two Akron firefighters were involved, said department spokesman John Gordon.

By midafternoon, Ohio Edison crews were waiting for the fire area to cool before beginning repairs, said Ellen Raines of FirstEnergy Corp., the parent company of Ohio Edison.

The evacuation affected 800 Summit County workers in the Ohio Building. They were sent home and the building was closed for the day.

It was not known how many were evacuated from the Key Building. Akron City Hall, which is connected to the other two buildings by walkways, was not evacuated.

However, the courthouse closed early in anticipation of power being cut for repairs. But that didn't happen, Raines said.

In a separate incident, five buildings at the University of Akron were evacuated Wednesday afternoon after workers turned off electricity to deal with groundwater that had seeped into the basement of one of the buildings.

Students and UA employees were allowed back into the buildings after about 90 minutes.

UA spokesman Ken Torisky said a sump pump stopped working in UA's Bierce Library. Water then built up near an electrical panel in its basement.

That in turn prompted UA workers to shut off electrical power about 12:30 p.m. to Bierce and four other UA buildings: Kolbe, Leigh and Memorial halls and the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences Building.

Power was restored to the buildings about 2 p.m. Workers installed auxiliary pumps and determined there was no damage to Bierce.

Distributed by the Associated Press