UPPER EAST SIDE — Salt from recent rainstorms seeping into a utility cable beneath First Avenue may have sparked several manhole fires on Tuesday, officials said.
The blaze broke out in four manholes on First Avenue between East 70th and 72nd streets about 4:30 p.m., with 60 firefighters responded to the scene, the FDNY said.
The basement and first floor of 1315 First Ave. — home of the Texas Rotisserie & Grill — were evacuated and the road had to be closed as firefighters and Con Edison workers responded to the scene, an FDNY spokeswoman said.
No one was injured, and electricity at the evacuated building remained out for less than half an hour, according to Con Edison spokesman Philip O' Brien.
While the definite cause is still under investigation, the fire likely started due to salt residue from the winter being washed underground by recent rains and sparking an underground cable that had developed a crack, he explained.
Reasons for cracks in the cable can include the equipment's age, changes in temperature and in rare cases rats nibbling at the cable, O'Brien said. O'Brien said rats were not believed to be involved in this particular manhole fire.
"When salt water seeps into underground wires and there's some sort of fray or crack on a wire and salt water gets in there and starts to react with electricity, it could start to burn," O'Brien said. "If it's in a compressed space, the manholes could pop."
Con Ed crews were still at First Avenue and 71st Street Wednesday morning to repair the cable.
"We are there now and will continue to be there for awhile until we replace the cables burned out by the pops," O'Brien added, providing a graphic explainer of how manhole fires start.Credit: Con Edison
The FDNY did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.
EDITORS NOTE: A previous version of this story stated that rats may have chewed through the underground cable and led to the fires, according to Con Edison spokesman Philip O'Brien. O'Brien later clarified that no bite marks were seen on the cable, though the cause is still being investigated.