Underground fire causes explosions, residence hall evacuations
GW officials evacuated Munson, JBKO and Madison halls Dec. 17 after an underground electric cable caught fire and caused at least two manhole covers to explode, said Bob Ludwig, assistant director of Media Relations. Power company officials did not know the exact location of the fire.
Munson and JBKO remained closed for the night. In the midst of studying for final exams, about 300 students were relocated to the GW Inn and the State Plaza and Doubletree hotels, said Nicki Ferramosca, a GW spokeswoman. She said Munson and JBKO reopened at 8 a.m. the next morning, and students returned to Madison the night of the incident.
The three evacuated residence halls are located on the blocks where explosions occurred and are connected to electric lines hit by the fire, Ferramosca said.
Potomac Electric Power Company spokesman Robert Dobkin said the electric company was informed at about 6 p.m.
The incident began when one of the three 13,000 volt feeder cables running along I Street failed, but the circuit breaker for that cable failed to shut off power to the faulty cable, causing it to catch fire and damage two other cables in the same duct, he said.
The damaged feeder cable also runs along 22nd Street and caused a fault to develop there, Dobkin said.
Students said they saw a manhole cover explode at the corner of 22nd and G streets in front of Funger Hall.
“It got really dark over here all of a sudden,” said junior Clark Rehme, who was walking along 22nd Street to Francis Scott Key Hall from Gelman Library. “You didn’t even see the manhole cover lift up.”
Rehme said smoke and flames shot out of the manhole at about 6:30 p.m.
The damage most likely occurred because of wear on the cables, which are subject to friction and extreme temperatures that may cause the insulation to erode, Dobkin said.
“We’re sorry,” he said. “We know what finals week is like.”
-Kate Stepan, Rich Murphy and Ashley M. Heher