Loud Booms From Exploding Transformers Startle Neighborhood

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A weather-related transformer explosion rocked a busy Midtown street Monday, sending flames shooting into the air and pedestrians scrambling out of the way.

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The explosion and resulting fire sent a thick plume of black smoke in the air near the Time Life building on 51st Street and Sixth Avenue. The fire broke out around 2 p.m. and was under control by 4:30 p.m.

Officials evacuated about 1,500 people from 140 W. 51st St. due to concerns over high levels of carbon monoxide in the smoke.

As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, the flames and heavy smoke shot as high as 12 feet above the street, just a block away from the Radio City Music Hall.

Walter Faranda was working nearby, and was one of the first to see the fire and hear the popping noises.

“I looked to my right, and I saw a whole bunch of smoke coming out,” he said. “It was really kind of scary.”

One person was injured, officials told CBS 2.

A video posted on Instagram (credit: Jonathan Percy ) shows people moving hurriedly away from the fire and numerous thumping booms as the transformer exploded. A large plume of flames can be seen gushing out of the manhole.


The fire was caused by snow melting with salt, which shorted out the transformer, Con Edison said.

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“We just evacuated ourselves, because you get a ton of smoke and it smells pretty bad,” said evacuee Dawn Abbott.

As fire crews worked quickly to put of the fire, the flames turned to smoke. But about an hour later, the fire restarted, sending bright orange flames several feet into the air.

A Midtown building was partially evacuated after a transformer fire Monday, Jan. 5. (Credit: Nikki Erskine)

A Midtown building was partially evacuated after a transformer fire Monday, Jan. 5. (Credit: Nikki Erskine)

Jim told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones that smoke filled the parking garage where he works.

“Nobody can get their own car because it’s a mess,” he said.

People on the busy Manhattan sidewalk were glad that no one was walking near the manhole when the fire started.

“There wasn’t that many people there, so we were pretty fortunate because nobody was hurt,” Faranda said.

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