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Manhole Fires Spark Explosions and Burn Cars on UES, Witnesses Say

By  Trevor Kapp and Aidan Gardiner | January 24, 2014 8:06am | Updated on January 24, 2014 11:55am

 The fires were sparked on East 89th Street Friday morning, a spokesman said.
Manholes Shoot Flames on UES
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Explosions rocked East 89th Street as manholes caught fire Friday morning, scalding cars and blowing out windows, witnesses and officials said.

Upper East Siders awoke to two explosions and flames blasting from manholes near 150 E. 89th St., between Lexington and Third avenues, about 6:30 a.m., according to witnesses and the FDNY.

"The second one broke my window. It sounded like a bomb. It shook my whole building," said Rene Ashcraft, a 42-year-old personal trainer who lives steps from the manholes.

"The explosions were five minutes apart. After the second one, my whole window lights up with fire. The flames were everywhere. They were about 4 feet high," he added.

The front of a white Mercedes ML SUV was seared in the flames.

Officials hadn't determined the cause of the fire by midday Friday, but FDNY and Con Edison spokesmen said manhole fires are common in the winter as salt used to melt snow leaks underground and corrodes wiring.

"All these materials are durable and they are tough, but there are so many miles of this equipment that there's spots sooner or later that turn up faulty," said Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee.

"We're likely to see more of incidents of this type this weekend as weather warms up," he added.

No injuries were immediately reported, according to the FDNY.

Only two customers lost power in the fires, but they were restored by 8 a.m., McGee said.

Crews were replacing damaged sections of wiring with new cable, McGee said.