Underground fire causes damage

Hannah Brooks, Staff writer

An underground fire in downtown Erie at the beginning of October left downtown businesses and residents without electricity for several hours.

Businesses such as the Renaissance Center, Big Bar, Cloud 9 and a Verizon Wireless office location found themselves operating on limited power for a few days.

The Renaissance Center even had to close to all but one residence due to the lack of utilities, air conditioning and elevators.

The fire started on Sept. 28. A switch on an underground vault located at East Tenth and State Street failed, which caused a flash of electricity.

Due to the location of the vault being underground, the flash of electricity was unable to dissipate into the air as it would if the line was above ground.

The fire caused extensive damage and also left residents without power for an extended period of time. Although it had originally been restored, Penelec needed to shut it off again for additional repairs.

As reported by MSN, contractors and a crew from the Cleveland Illuminating Electric Company worked 16-hour days to restore electricity to the area.

While the process can feel frustrating for residents without power, the process of restoration is one that takes time.

One factor that causes difficulty for workers is the lack of space. Because the line is located below ground rather than above ground, the space was very confined and limited how many workers were able to work at once.

If the line had been overhead, more people would have been able to work on it at the same time.

Another factor that made the restoration of power more difficult was the rain on Oct. 3.

In addition to causing issues for businesses regarding their electricity, the fire also caused problems for cell phone users.

AT&T reports that the fire was to blame for service disruptions that many customers had faced at the beginning of the month. The company had released a statement saying that they were unable to fix anything until Penelec cleaned up the scene and repaired their equipment. AT&T had set up three portable cell sites to serve first responders.

Although power was restored and cellular service is back to normal for customers, it was reported two days ago by Erie News Now that work is still continuing to repair the vault at East Tenth and State Street.

Businesses that were inconvenienced by the fire now find themselves inconvenienced by the construction going on in front of their businesses.

Haley Strasser, Manager of Jekyll and Hyde’s bar in down- town Erie, told Erie News Now that “with a large part of it being closed outside of our specific business, it really messes with our numbers and flow of business.”

The lack of parking has not only forced employees to park six blocks away, but also deterred customers in general.

The work on the main manhole is estimated to be finished before Thanksgiving. However, additional work could continue on into 2022.

The underground fire not only caused damages to the vault at East Tenth and State Street, but also to a manhole in the middle of Tenth and State Street, as well as one in front of Big Bar.

The work includes electrical work underground as well as work such as pouring concrete over the manholes.

First Energy and contractors working on the repairs are working diligently to ensure that such a circumstance will not happen again.