Washington Heights Manhole Fire Forces Building Evacuation

By Tom Liddy | May 19, 2011 1:33pm | Updated on May 19, 2011 3:22pm

By Carla Zanoni and Tom Liddy

DNAinfo Staff

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS - More than a dozen residents were evacuated from their homes in Washington Heights Thursday afternoon after a fire in a manhole filled apartments with carbon monoxide, officials said.

An elderly couple, including an 84-year-old blind man, and their home health aide were among those who had to flee when the blaze erupted in front of 674 W. 161st St., near Riverside Drive, just before 1 p.m.

"We could smell the gas, but they came and took us out immediately," Carmen Duarte, 48, the health aide, said in Spanish.

Officials said that they found elevated carbon monoxide readings.

Fourteen people from the building were evacuated, but there were no injuries.

The cause of the fire was unknown.

Construction worker Martin Velasquez said he saw smoke coming out of the manhole, but didn't hear an explosion.

Two hours later, the fire was doused and residents were allowed back into their apartments.