Update: July 3, 10:27 p.m.: Power was restored to all customers at about 6 p.m., a Con Edison spokesman said.
At around 11:40 a.m. on Tuesday, lights flickered in the NYPD’s 78th precinct and smoke billowed out of a manhole on the corner of Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue. A second later, flames leapt up from the hole and licked the air at about one foot high.
Police, nearby residents and business owners, who all lost electricity in their respective buildings and homes on Tuesday, congregated around the flames as Con Edison workers blocked off the intersection and waited for the FDNY to arrive.
The FDNY’s Battalion 31 came with three engines and one truck within minutes to put out the first alarm fire in a manhole at the intersection. Using one hose, firemen extinguished the flames by 12:01.
According to Con Edison, the fire , cutting power to the subway, nearby apartment buildings, restaurants and even the NYPD's 78th Precinct.
But, as of 2:07 p.m. Con Edison had reduced the estimate of customers without power to 53. Get the latest update on Con Edison's power outage map.Get breaking news alerts right in your inbox. Click for fast sign up for the Park Slope or Prospect Heights daily newsletters.
Battalion 31 Chief Bill Falkenmayer said Con Ed asked them for help to control the flames on Tuesday, which is the third day of .
“We checked the surrounding buildings and exposures for fire and CO, but the results were negative,” Chief Falkenmayer said while on the scene. “We also checked the conduits under the buildings to make sure the fire didn’t spread and that also came up negative.”
After the active fire was put out, the FDNY stood by per Con Edison’s request as they got back to work in the manhole that was engulfed in flames 30 minutes earlier.
A Con Edison worker told Patch that the cables in the manholes they are doing work on were “de-energized,” meaning that they shut off electricity to them, and all the problems are “isolated” to the area.
But, area residents and business owners are suffering the third day of power outages from multiple manhole fires in and around Flatbush and Sixth Avenue and Bergen and Dean streets since Sunday.
Chan Yang Garden, a Chinese food restaurant on the corner of Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue has had no electricity since 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“The past three days we have had no business, it’s a huge loss for us,” Meng Chen translated for her mother, who is a co-owner of the restaurant. “This is a family business and brings in all of our income. This is our living, and for three days straight we have made nothing.”
One store front down on Bergen Street, Wayne Agassis Salon and Spa also has had no electricity since Sunday. On Sunday night, their lights started to flicker while they had a few patrons inside for appointments.
“Luckily, we were able to finish our treatments on Sunday, but when the power went out completely, it hasn’t come back on,” said an employee, Leah Baptiste after the fire on Tuesday while she was standing in the dark in the spa.
She explained that they are usually closed on Monday, but they had to cancel all of their appointments on Tuesday.
“Wednesday is usually a great day for us, but if we don’t get our power tomorrow it is going to be a big problem,” Baptiste said. “We are talking about losing thousands of dollars.”
Next door, the bodega Slope Food Market has also suffered its third day without electricity.
“They’re killing us, we’ve lost a ton of money,” Angelo Alma, an employee, said under one light that was still barely on. “We have been making ice so everything is still cold, but we can’t keep this up forever.”
Standing inside the bodega was the owner of Fish & Sip, a fish and chips restaurant on Flatbush Avenue, looking visibly tired, frustrated and hot.
“This is ridiculous, I can’t tell you how exhausted I am,” Eyal Hen said under the bodega’s flickering light. “Three days in a row and we’re losing business, losing thousands and thousands of dollars. I can’t even talk about it anymore.”
Bergen Bagels has had fleeting moments of electricity. Since Sunday, they have been able to make bagels until 11 a.m., then the power goes out. To compensate and try to keep business, they have been bringing bagels over from their other location on Washington Avenue each afternoon, according to an employee.
But, with the power surges and brownouts, some of their equipment broke.
“We can’t make sandwiches or iced coffee, business is definitely suffering,” Maria Estrada said while washing a broken coffee maker in the sink.
But, businesses aren’t the only victims of the power outages.
Frank and Jan Reina, who were taking pictures of the flames leaping out of the manhole before noon, said their apartment on Bergen and Flatbush lost electricity again during the fire on Tuesday.
“This has been going on since 5 p.m. on Sunday,” Jan said, explaining that their power comes on for a few hours, but then goes out. “We do not have enough power for the air conditioner or the refrigerator for most of the time."
Frank said that they have been dealing with power outages in their apartment since 2006.
“This is a yearly event, each summer there are manhole fires and we lose electricity,” Frank explained. “It’s reoccurring and it it’s always the same manholes too.”
On Tuesday morning they had power, after having none until 8 p.m. on Monday, but it started to brownout and then shut off completely at around 11:30 a.m.
“There has to be an over-drain on the grid. In this area, there’s not enough infrastructure to supply these homes,” Frank said. “This neighborhood has become so much more populated by residents but especially new restaurants that use a lot of electricity and I don’t think the infrastructure can handle it all.”
Con Edison still does not know the reason for the repeated fires but are working to get power back up as soon as possible. Right now they estimate that power will be restored by 5 a.m. Wednesday, said Con Ed spokesman Alfonso Quiroz.
Con Ed also said that the power outages don’t have anything to do with the breakdown of union negotiations Sunday, locking out 8,000 workers and causing managers and contractors to take over the work on the streets as temperatures reached the 90s.
But, Frank doesn’t buy it.
“The lockout has to be affecting this. They don’t seem to know what they are doing. When this happened last year, they put out the fire, fixed the problem and the power came back on,” Frank said. “But now, they are standing around, looking into the manhole as if they have no idea how to fix it.”
But, he still feels bad for the workers.
“I feel bad for the Con Edison workers who have been out here since Sunday,” Frank said, explaining that he and his wife have seen Con Ed workers in manholes, evacuating during the multiples fire and then bringing out charred cables everyday. “It seems like they just cannot fix the problem.”