Flames seen shooting out of manholes as fire burns underneath downtown streets in Colorado Springs

No injuries were reported following an underground fire in Colorado Springs.
Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 12:55 PM CDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV/Gray News) - Thick smoke billowed over downtown streets as firefighters battled an underground fire Monday morning.

Firefighters were called to 101 Kiowa Street just before 2:30 a.m. on reports of a fire underneath the street. The caller told dispatchers flames could be seen shooting out of a manhole.

“When our crews first arrived, they found fire coming out of multiple manholes, coming up approximately 10 feet in the air, getting close and impinging on the buildings there,” said Colorado Springs Fire Department Lt. Aaron McConnellogue.

Though tricky, firefighters were successfully able to keep the fire from spreading to those buildings, which included residences, restaurants and other businesses. The fire is believed to be in underground electrical vaults, not the sewer system.

“With us not knowing which vaults they were, making an assumption they were electric vaults, we don’t want to put water into that area there, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t have any involvement with the building itself,” McConnellogue said.

The force of the blaze blew at least one of the manhole covers in the air, as well as chunks of a vault itself.

“We did have with one of the vaults, so it’s in the alleyway in between Nevada and Tejon that runs that alleyway right there where we had multiple manholes with fire coming through those there, blew the cover off and looked like it blew some of that underground vault up in the air there,” he said.

Firefighters got the upper hand on the blaze early on, and the fire was deemed under control before 4:30 a.m. Its impacts would be felt for hours beyond that, McConnellogue said, telling reporters that several streets in the surrounding area would be closed for a while, while buildings in close proximity to the fire were cleared out due to a carbon monoxide risk. The affected zone is in between Platte and Pikes Peak and Nevada and Kiowa.

“We’ve got an evacuation going on from the north side of Kiowa in between Tejon and Nevada, we’ve evacuated all those buildings, one of those being 101 [Kiowa], the lofts right there, so we’ve gone door to door. We’ve evacuated everybody from there. Which, there weren’t a lot of residents who were home, but we’ve got everybody out right now because we do have very high levels of CO throughout the entire building,” McConnellogue said. “... We’re running fans and trying to push all of the CO levels back down and try to make things habitable for everybody again.”

The carbon monoxide is due to the high amounts of smoke in the area, McConnellogue said.

“We had a pretty good smoke plume in the area, and just with the ventilation system, we’re assuming that’s what was pulling everything into the building there,” he said.

The closures are expected to last several hours. The sole building to remain open Monday morning in the impacted area would be the city bus station, McConnellogue said.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department posted to social media that the Kiowa and Nevada parking garage, however, would be closed “indefinitely” because of the incident; it’s unclear if that means the parking garage closure will extend beyond Monday.

Colorado Springs Utilities first said the fire was caused when a fault in a transformer caused an explosion underneath Kiowa. It is expected to speak more on the incident at 1 p.m. Monday. We will stream that news conference.

Several buildings remain without power as a result of the incident.

“To help contain the fire, we turned off electricity to several buildings in the area. We are currently working to restore power safely,” Utilities said in a statement on its website.

No injuries have been reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.