Underground Baltimore Fire Knocks Out Power

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

Traffic lights were out at some downtown intersections and several streets were closed. There was no electricity at City Hall, the Clarence Mitchell courthouse, the Peabody Institute and other buildings in the area, said Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for BGE.

``It's only bright in here because the sun is shining,'' said Foy, who was at City Hall.

Foy did not know how many BGE customers were affected.

There were no reports of injuries or serious traffic problems. Drivers at intersections with Charles Street, the city's main northbound avenue, that did not have working 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.

Nonessential city employees who work in the buildings within an area bounded by Monument Street, Fallsway, Baltimore Street and Charles Street were initially told by the mayor's office to stay home. Later, they were told to monitor radio and television broadcasts because they might be ordered to report at noon.

Jurors summoned to the Baltimore Circuit Court had the day off because of the power outage at the Mitchell 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, 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 expected to restore service to some buildings before noon, Foy said.

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