Douglaston businesses, homes lose power in transformer fire

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A massive transformer fire temporarily left more than 100 Douglaston households and businesses without power Friday morning, but residents and an elected official are applauding the rapid response to the situation.

A Con Edison substation at 244th Street and Northern Boulevard exploded shortly before 8 a.m., sending smoke billowing into the sky, which was visible as far away as the Throgs Neck Bridge. Within minutes, police, firefighters and Con Ed workers arrived at the scene to fight the three-alarm blaze and evacuate nearby homes and shops.

“I heard the explosion and then the electricity was flickering,” said Marcelle Abikaram, who lives near the substation.

Employing foam, water and other chemicals used to fight fires where electricity is involved, firefighters were able to put out the fire at 10:52 a.m., according to the Fire Department. Thirty-three units and a total of 138 firefighters were involved in putting out the blaze, the FDNY said.

Despite the massive flames and smoke, no one was seriously injured by the fire. Representatives from Con Ed said the utility and the FDNY were investigating the cause of the fire, which was not determined as of press time Tuesday.

Because the transformer was destroyed in the blaze, nearly 1,446 residential and business customers lost power for more than two hours, according to Con Ed. City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who was at the scene of the blaze, said Con Ed has plans in place to deal with events in which a transformer fails.

“Because of the way the transformer was built, they can switch to another one and reroute the power,” he said.

In April, a Floral Park woman was killed and her family was left homeless after an explosion of a leaky Con Ed gas line destroyed their house. The utility was criticized by elected officials and residents for failing to communicate with the residents of the block when they detected the dangerous gas leak.

The councilman said he was impressed by the prompt action the utility took to communicate and help residents in the nearby area after Friday’s fire erupted.

Avella said Con Ed’s Queens office and its main offices in Manhattan called his cell phone to alert him to the explosion and that they were on the scene assessing the situation.

“All in all, I think it was a good response,” he said.

Residents who were spared from the smoke and flames were also content with the response by firefighters, who got them out of harm’s way.

“The Fire Department came in fast and told us to get out, get out,” said Abikaram, who was sitting with a fellow evacuated neighbor while firefighters put out the blaze.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:31 pm, October 10, 2011
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