Gas Geyser Erupts on Busy Broadway
THE IGNITION of illuminating gas escaping from a 24-inch main on the Consolidated Edison Company of New Yorkon December 4 touched off a blaze that lit up the corner of Broadway and 40th Street, Manhattan, like a giant torch. Three persons, two of them Edison employees, were slightly injured by the flare-up and a full-alarm assignment of four engines, two ladder companies and other midtown units of the New York Fire Department put in a hectic hour’s work before the danger of a major disaster was averted.
At 1:00 p.m. the area around Manhattan’s Times Square is normally one of the busiest, most crowded sections in the big city; on that Wednesday it was unusually jammed with shoppers and vehicular traffic. The roads were icy with slush and snow.
Edison employees were working in a shallow trench on the west side of Broadway, repairing a leak in a 24-inch cast iron gas main when in some undisclosed manner the escaping fumes ignited. Press reports that a carelessly tossed cigarette butt which landed in the trench was responsible are discounted by fire fighters.
The flaming geyser erupted near the northwest corner of 40th Street, sending flames 20 to 30 feet in the air and sending pedestrians scurrying to escape the heat. Three Edison workers scrambled out of the ditch, but not before two of them received bums. One woman passer-by was scorched and shocked.
Box 767, Broadway and 40th, was snapped, bringing Engines 26, 65, 34 and 1, Ladders 21 and 24; the chiefs of the 7th and 9th Battalions and Chief Wood of the 3rd Division.
All companies were immediately put to work, first efforts being directed toward protecting the immediate exposures and removal of people from the endangered structures; next to protect against possible further explosions and shut off the supply that provided fuel for the fire.
Five hose streams, alternating between straight streams and fog, were quickly bearing upon both the fire and endangered premises, to break up the heat wave and prevent radiation. In this, fire fighters were successful, the only reported damage being to a window of a snack bar which was cracked.
Ladder 24, which is equipped with double ladder pipes, was raised on the east side of Broadway and supply lines were hooked up ready for operation. Crews of ladder companies were dispatched to examine exposed buildings, and to aid Edison crews in shutting down the gas supply system. Meanwhile, details of police attempted to clear the area of sightseers and shoppers—a herculean task.
It took some time before the gas supply could be valved off. As soon as this was accomplished, water fog was used to extinguish the fire which fed on the residue of gas left in the pipe. However, because of the possible hazards remaining from the accumulated unburned residue a watch was set to prevent smoking and other possible means of ignition.
Edison and fire department authorities agreed on the pressure in the main— approximately 6 inches of water at the time of the fire, but no reasons for the escapage or ignition have been officially advanced. The theory was advanced by some that the leakage was the result of a flood which occurred only a short time before, when a large main burst on 40th Street.
Metropolitan New York has been plagued by an increasing series of breaks and ruptures in water and gas supply lines during the past year. Many are said to have been the indirect result of blastingfor foundations of new structures being erected during the city’s building boom.