London

Holborn fire: Firemen will work 'most of the night'

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Media captionMore than 30 firefighters are still at the scene in Kingsway

An electrical fire in a tunnel under a pavement in central London is still burning as firefighters have reported difficulty tackling the blaze.

London Fire Brigade (LFB) said firefighters would be working "most of the night" on Thursday.

It said the fire, which has been burning for more than 24 hours, had been contained in the tunnel.

Some 5,000 people were evacuated in Holborn on Wednesday after smoke was seen coming out of an inspection cover.

'Avoid area'

More than 100 businesses have been affected.

LFB said the cordon in Kingsway had been scaled back, but the road remained closed.

Assistant Commissioner Dany Cotton said: "This is a technically difficult and unusual incident to tackle as it is underground."

Fighting fires in tunnels was "very hazardous," she said, and measures had to be taken to avoid the risk of a gas explosion.

"Firefighters have, however, been applying water through access points throughout the night, to control the spread of the fire," she added.

She asked people to avoid the immediate area if possible.

A total of 35 firefighters and six fire engines are at the fire on Kingsway. Local road closures remain in place.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but it is believed the blaze started among underground cables.

'Not an overnight job'

Speaking to BBC London 94.9, Met Police Insp Neil Johnson said: "I imagine this road will be closed a long time after this is finished because of damage the heat does to the road.

"It will have to remain closed until a structural engineer examines it properly and either he or she says what work has to be done and that work is completed - this is not an overnight job."

Image copyright London Fire Brigade
Image caption Local road closures are in place but Holborn Tube station is open
Image copyright Mike Wooldridge
Image caption The view from the London Eye on Wednesday night highlighted the area affected by the power cut
Image copyright Michael FRANCOISE
Image caption Eyewitness Michael Francoise said smoke was still coming out of manholes 16 hours after the fire started

On Wednesday, onlookers reported struggling to breathe and "chaos" in and around Holborn.

UK Power Networks said the number of customers currently affected by the power cuts stood at about 1,000 and it had restored power to about 2,000.

It is hoped power will be restored to everyone affected by the end of Thursday.

Apologising to customers Matt Rudling, from the firm, said: "The gas is still burning under there and until we can gain access to that particular area we won't understand what's caused it and what we can do."

Image copyright Michael Francoise
Image caption Emergency generators were used to supply power to the area
Image copyright Iain B
Image caption Smoke was seen coming out of an inspection cover on Kingsway on Wednesday
Image copyright @MammaMiaMusical

He added that emergency generators were being used to supply power to the area and engineers were also trying to connect some of the damaged cables to unaffected ones.

Several West End theatres were forced to cancel performances on Wednesday evening including Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Disney's The Lion King, Gypsy, Mamma Mia! The Play That Goes Wrong and The Woman In Black.

Thursday's matinee performances at the Novello and Aldwych theatres were also cancelled.

Councillor Richard Beddoe, from Westminster City Council, said: "We are relieved to hear that there were no serious casualties but the losses to big businesses in the West End, due to poor infrastructure, is just not acceptable. We want to see action."

The National Grid said it was working with emergency services to "isolate the gas supply".

In a statement, the company, which operates gas transmission infrastructure in the UK, said the fire had affected one of its pipes.

"This is a challenging operation due to the fire's location, access to our gas pipe and other utilities in close proximity.

"We cannot just turn a valve and switch off the gas because of safety reasons and [the] impact on the gas network," the statement said.

Road closures

  • Kingsway, between Holborn and Aldwych
  • The Strand Underpass
  • Waterloo Bridge northbound
  • Southampton Row southbound between Vernon Place and High Holborn

Transport for London said Holborn station is open, however nine bus services are being diverted, the 1, 59, 68, 91, 168, 171, 188, 243 and 521.

For the latest travel updates follow @BBCTravelAlert on Twitter and visit the BBC London Travel website.

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