An underground explosion beneath a street housing government agencies in Baltimore injured two workers Monday afternoon at the 200 block of W. Preston Street.
The workers suffered first- and second-degree burns to their faces, arms and hands in connection with the incident, which fire officials believe involved an electrical wire underground, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman.
Workers were underground in the 200 block of W. Preston St. performing unspecified repairs when a "large explosion" occurred, followed by heavy smoke and fire from a manhole, according to Cartwright. Fire crews arrived on the scene about 12:30 p.m., officials said, and Cartwright said they encountered smoke but little fire. By 1:15 p.m., he said, there was no active fire burning.
The two injured workers, whose names were not released, were employees of Allied Contractors Inc., a firm hired by the city, according to Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation, which oversees the electrical, telecommunications and traffic cables in conduits beneath city streets. The two were inspecting and replacing some copper cable in a manhole, Barnes said, but could provide no further details. Calls to the company at 204 E. Preston St. were not returned.
That part of W. Preston St. is home to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and other government agencies. Fire officials inspected nearby buildings, including the Fifth Regiment Armory and State Office Building, and they did not appear to be affected, Cartwright said.
Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the incident had little impact on the work day.
"We've alerted our employees to keep them apprised," she said. "The only thing at this point in time is our entrance to the [parking] garage is closed, so we're using another garage exit if necessary."
Cartwright said the causes of the explosion were still being looked into, and that Baltimore Gas and Electric would likely handle any future investigation of the explosion's cause. Officials from the Department of Public Works, Department of Transportation, and a special unit from Baltimore County were called to the scene Monday afternoon, Cartwright said.
Despite the more than 10 emergency vehicles crowding the state government complex Monday, workers streamed calmly out in ones and twos for their afternoon lunch break. Myrna Harris, who works in the complex, said she and other employees were not told of the explosion by supervisors or officials. None of the buildings were evacuated.
"You've got to come outside to know something's going on," Harris said.
Some fire units were leaving the scene by 1:30 p.m., slowing traffic on Howard St. as they exited the complex.
One of the injured workers was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and the other to the burn center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Cartwright said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this story.