Brooklyn Heights

Manholes explode on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights

March 25, 2024 Mary Frost
Firefighters respond as thick smoke poured out of two manholes on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Witnesses reported hearing two explosions before thick smoke began pouring out of two manholes on Montague Street near Henry Street shortly before 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. 

Banging sounds continued to emanate from the manholes — in front of Saketumi Asian Bistro at 118 Montague St. — as passersby and their dogs scattered. A window broke on an upper floor, possibly from the concussion, and some residents in nearby apartment buildings debated vacating.

Smoke accompanied by banging sounds alarmed Brooklyn Heights residents on Saturday. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

Firefighters closed off a section of Montague Street and called in Con Edison and National Grid, an FDNY spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle.

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FDNY initially labeled the event a transformer fire, but a Con Ed spokesperson told the Eagle on Monday that the incident was not a transformer fire, but what the company labeled a “smoking manhole.”

A pane of glass in a third floor window of 118 Montague St. was likely broken from the concussion of the manhole explosions. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

“Con Edison crews were dispatched and made the necessary repairs on Saturday, which included replacing a secondary wire,” the spokesperson said. A Con Ed emergency vehicle was parked across the street from the location on Sunday.

Flames tinged in blue shot out from this manhole on Montague Street Saturday, leading FDNY to call in National Grid as a precaution. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

‘Shock and concern’

FDNY said that no injuries were reported, but some residents said they were quite alarmed by the sound of the explosions.

“My initial reaction was one of shock and concern,” said Anjue Craig, who lives at the corner of Montague and Henry streets. “The first thought that crossed my mind was the urgent need for safety.”

Sparks fly as firefighters cut sidewalk hatches to enter Montague Street basements in order to check for elevated levels of carbon monoxide that would potentially require an evacuation of the building. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

Craig said she considered seeking refuge in the bathroom and hiding in the bathtub as she alerted her neighbor.

“We decided to go downstairs and approach the emergency unit for guidance,” she said. “It was communicated to us that we would experience a temporary disruption in electricity and gas supply for a night or two.” 

Smoke billows from a manhole in front of Saketumi Asian Bistro at 118 Montague St. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

However, Con Ed repaired the wiring that same day, the company said.

Resident Ashley Frost-Morgan told the Eagle that she walked by the scene about 4:30 p.m.

“When I walked by, emergency services were already there,” she said. “There was visible, heavy smoke coming from a manhole in the intersection of Montague and Henry as I walked by. A few loud bangs went off inside the hole, which sounded like fireworks.” 

Frost-Morgan added that she didn’t stop to watch or take photos or video because her dog was alarmed by the bangs.  

“My dog was pretty spooked so we kept walking,” she said.

Another resident, who did not wish to be named, told the Eagle, “At one point, a pane of glass in a third floor window of 118 Montague St. was broken from the concussion of the explosions. In addition to Con Ed, the FDNY had National Grid come to the scene because of blue-tinged flame emanating from the manhole at the Montague/Henry intersection, suggesting that there may have been a compromised gas line involved, too.”

The captain of Red Hook’s Ladder Co. 101 surveys the smoky scene on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights on Saturday. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

A video snippet supplied by someone who works in the area shows smoke billowing from two manholes simultaneously at 4:03 p.m. A pouring rain can be seen soaking the street and sidewalks.

At 5:19 p.m., more than an hour an after the manholes popped, FDNY received a call about the odor of gas. However, carbon monoxide levels reported negative in the surrounding area and the incident was closed at roughly 6:23 p.m., FDNY said.  A National Grid spokesperson said on Monday there was no gas connection and the incident was entirely electrical. 

Firefighters responded to the manhole explosions on Montague Street in the rain on Saturday. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

The incident took place during a heavy downpour. “While not confirmed, the cause of Saturday’s smoking manhole was likely due to weather,” the Con Ed spokesperson said. 

Layers of old electrical wires lay under NYC streets, according to Fire Engineering magazine. Salt laid down over the years during the winter to prevent icing eats away the wires’ insulation and can lead to explosions and fires.

“Salt represents nothing short of an acid bath,” the publication said. 

As smoke swirled, firefighters gathered under a sidewalk shed on Montague Street Saturday with Battalion Chief Sean Danis. Photo: Marc A. Hermann
The faces of passersby during Saturday’s manhole fire incident on Montague Street show looks of alarm and apprehension. Photo: Marc A. Hermann

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