City blaze disrupts MCI lines

June 04, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

A seemingly harmless Northeast Baltimore brush fire ended up being more problematic for Marylanders last night as it burned a fiber optic cable and disrupted telephone service for thousands of MCI customers.

The fire, which occurred about 9:10 p.m. near railroad tracks at Garrett Avenue and 25th Street, damaged an aerial cable that contained thousands of simultaneous relays, said Jim Collins, an MCI spokesman.

As a result, MCI customers who attempted to place long-distance calls were often getting busy signals.

A work crew was at the cable site early this morning, but it was unclear how soon the problem could be remedied, Mr. Collins said.

"We have no idea at this point how severe the damage is or how long it will take to repair it," he said. "If they're able to splice the cable, normal service could be back by [this morning.] If they have difficulty, there will still be problems [today]. It's safe to say that this will affect thousands of customers, but a more precise estimate won't be possible until we assess the damage," he said.

Bell Atlantic had no disruptions of service, a spokesman said last night.

City fire officials said they responded to the fire call and found grass and brush burning. They extinguished the blaze, which they described as minor. The cause of the fire hadn't been determined last night.

Mr. Collins said that, although the damaged relays would affect service throughout the Baltimore area, they would not disable it. Callers can often get around the damaged relay by repeatedly dialing their desired number until they get through, he said.

The problem is believed to be isolated to the Baltimore region, although callers from as far away as Philadelphia and New York could have problems making calls to Maryland, Mr. Collins said.

Fiber optic cables work by carrying laser generated messages and can handle far more information than can a standard copper phone line. They generally are considered to be the best medium for transmitting the large amounts of data that will be required for interactive functions. Phone companies have been replacing their lines with fiber optics, albeit rather slowly because the fiber optics have been much more expensive than metal wires.

On March 30, a mudslide severed a fiber-optic cable near Fredericksburg, Va., disrupting long-distance phone service for thousands of MCI Communications Corp. customers on the East Coast.

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