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Small underground explosion shuts State Street for a period

Small underground explosion shuts State Street for a period

Happens in same vicinity as several previous fires
Small underground explosion shuts State Street for a period
Schenectady firefighters block off a portion of State Street after smoke was seen coming from a manhole March 8, 2018.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — A small explosion underground on State Street on Thursday was caused by an electric service cable shorting out, according to National Grid.

This caused smoke to rise from under a manhole cover located directly in front of Nico's Pizzeria and prompted fire officials to close State Street between Broadway and Clinton Street until about 1:40 p.m. It also restricted access from several businesses between Jay and Clinton streets for a little more than an hour.

manholeprb.jpg
Pedestrians cross State Street in Schenectady, which was blocked off by the city Fire Department after smoke was seen coming from manholes Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Peter R. Barber)

Smoke was no longer coming from the manhole by about midday, but power to the building that houses Lyle's Hoagies was out, according to Deputy Fire Chief Michael O'Clair.

Nathan Stone, spokesman for National Grid, said the cable underground was old and the salting of the roads due to snow storms over the years caused it to erode. He said it was connected to that building, which had the addresses 435 and 439 State St., and that the circuit breaker box was also old.

State Street has seen several such fires in recent years, including some that resulted in manhole covers being launched explosively into the air.

National Grid has blamed past fires on worn, underground power cables.

"Some of the [electric] lines have been under there since the '30s," Stone said. "Like any other pieces of equipment, they go bad and need to be replaced."

Even with those previous incidents, Stone said residents have nothing to worry about.

"It is safe to walk around there," Stone said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the incident appeared to be different from previous incidents because it was a line running into a building with older equipment that failed.

"I don't have any undue concern with National Grid infrastructure or the response to the problem," McCarthy said. "It's a minimal inconvenience and things will be back to normal with the exception of one building."

National Grid has been working to replace "thousands of miles" of old and worn out utility lines, whether they are overhead or underground, according to Stone. It is hard, though, to fix every line before something goes wrong.

"We inspect them regularly, but a line goes bad, and when it goes bad, we'll fix it," Stone said. "Over the next couple of years, we will continue to spend money on upgrades," he said.

Stone said he is not sure when National Grid will be getting to State Street with upgrades.

"There are plans for State Street, we just don't know when," Stone said.

There will be some digging into the pavement to get into the line, Stone said, which could continue into Friday. He said it was unclear if it could affect traffic.

"As of now, there hasn't been plans to reconfigure traffic," Stone said.

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