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A fire broke out in Astoria last Thursday at around 4 p.m. when a transformer in an underground vault blew up, setting fire to a nearby vehicle in a blaze that spread to a three-story commercial building with a pharmacy on the ground level, FDNY officials said.
About 125 firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire at the corner of 29th Street and 23rd Avenue, which was brought under control at around 9 p.m., said Paul Iannizzotto, a spokesman for the Fire Department.
Because of the heat during the humid, hazy day with temperatures reaching 95 degrees, firefighters were rotated more frequently and kept working for shorter periods of time, said Isiah Johnson, a Fire Department official who was present at the scene.
Four firefighters were taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center with minor injuries, said Iannizzotto.
There were no reported injuries to civilians, he said.
D. Joy Faber, a spokeswoman for Con Edison, said the cause of the transformer explosion was still being investigated. She hypothesized that the heavy use of salt over the winter may have caused corrosion to underground cables. The corrosion, in addition to the high heat may have led to the explosion.
When its hot outside, its like putting something in the ground and baking it, Joy Faber said. With the underground corrosion, it has the potential to create hazardous conditions, and sometimes fire erupts.
The explosion disrupted electricity service in the area for about five hours before it was restored at 9 p.m., said Joy Faber.
Before leaving the scene, firefighters went through full decontamination procedures, which included putting clothing in plastic bags and washing equipment with soap and water, because the vault may have been contaminated with asbestos or PCBs, said Iannizzotto.
Robert Costello, the owner of Costello Real Estate at the corner of 29th Street and 23rd Avenue, said a similar fire had erupted at the same location on a hot day last year.
Joyfaber said the company would look in to whether or not an explosion had occurred at the location last year as part of the investigation.
This year Costello heard an explosion, and his computer blew out when the transformer blew up. He went outside and saw a four-by-four truck on fire down the street.
When I went outside, I saw black smoke, sparks, and the truck was on fire, said Costello. Then it started burning the drugstore.
George Lazarides, the co-owner of Double G Pharmacy, which caught on fire, said his business partner and three employees ran out of the store after they heard the explosion and smoke started coming through the air conditioner.
The pharmacy unfortunately was totally damaged, said Lazarides. It was lucky not one person hurt, thats the most important thing.
Lazarides said Tuesday that he was trying to set up a temporary trailer in front of his pharmacy where customers could continue to get their medicines.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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