More than two dozen workers building the Metro subway extension from Charles Center to Johns Hopkins Hospital were forced to evacuate a tunnel last night when an electrical panel that controlled several compressed air pumps caught fire.
No injuries were reported.
Moments after the panel caught fire above ground about 11:50 p.m., an auxiliary diesel-powered pump kicked in and continued supplying air to the workers in the tunnel some 50 feet below street level.
Smoke filled the tunnel and workers were ordered to leave their machines and walk to a ladder two blocks north of their work site under the intersection of Broadway and Fayette Street.
"We had communication down there and someone called and told us to come up," said an employee of Kiewit-Shea A.J.V., the construction firm that is building the twin tunnels.
The worker said that co-workers remained calm. "We just picked up our lunch pails and walked out," he said.
Battalion Chief Robert Williams said the fire was confined to a large electrical panel inside a corrugated steel shed-like building near Broadway and Orleans Street.
Chief Williams said the fire inside the panel was difficult to get to. He said the panel had to be dismantled so that firefighters could reach the fire.
For more than an hour, smoke, fanned by gusting winds, spread an odor of burning electrical wires in the immediate area.
A Kiewit-Shea safety officer said the fire would cause only a brief interruption in the work.
Construction of the twin tunnels began in August 1989 with work on the Shot Tower station. The project will take about 5 1/2 years to complete at a cost of $312 million. The federal government is providing 85 percent of the funding.