Underground fire causes minor explosions, street closures in downtown Louisville

Published: Mar. 23, 2013 at 1:37 PM EDT|Updated: May. 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM EDT
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We now know what caused the series of electrical vault fires on 7th street Saturday. Brian Phillips with LG&E tells WAVE 3 it was a fault one of the underground cables that caused it. He says, "the fault caused a fire and what that did was since that infrastructure is contained in ductwork, what that did was, it traveled through the ductwork and then escaped through some of the manholes that were along 7th street." He says an electrical vault is, "all the same type of equipment you would see above ground through neighborhoods that would have above ground lines when they're underground the infrastructure is sort of contained inside a duct work."

Monday crews worked to remove the cable and replace it with a new one. Phillips says the vaults are safe and they regularly check them for safety.

Underground explosions in downtown Louisville shut down traffic for more five hours after a fire in at least one LG&E electrical vault underneath 7th Street.

LMPD headquarters was without power and operating on a generator for most of Saturday. Metro Corrections, Hall of Justice and judicial building did not lose electricity. LG&E specialists worked to shut off electricity to the vaults without affecting power to other downtown buildings.

There were four minor explosions in three different locations on 7th Street. Flames were intermittently shooting from some of the manholes after their covers blew off.

The blasts caused at least two manhole covers to blow up and collapsed a section of 7th Street near Congress Alley. "The cover on one of the manholes actually blew up 7 stories in the air," Louisville Fire Lt. Col. Glenn Nally said.

Around 9 a.m., Nally said no one had been underground to examine the cause of the fire. "We still have something actively burning down there. We, or LG&E cannot get in there until we get all the electric isolated."

Jefferson Street remained closed between 6th and 9th Streets. Market Street was closed between 7th and 8th Streets and 7th Street was shut down between Liberty Street and Market.

Initially, firefighters responded to LMPD headquarters at 7:26 a.m. because of smoke in the building. Once crews evacuated the building, firefighters witnessed another mini explosion and notified LG&E.

"We were getting some carbon monoxide readings in there so we brought in a ventilator truck to clear out the smoke," Lt. Col. Nally said.

Several downtown employees couldn't clock in because of the buckled pavement. "It was right in front of Republic Plaza so I knew I would not be going to work today," Peggy Perry said.

Bryan Scott watched as firefighters kept their distance from the flames. "To see that, and see the roadway around it broken up - it was a pretty powerful explosion," Scott said.

No injuries were reported. There was no immediate word on the cause of the fire.

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