Fire Shuts Down Square

Underground electrical fire forces authorities to close off Square on Friday

Parts of Harvard Square were closed for most of Friday morning after an underground electrical fire erupted and flared up through several manholes on the corner of Mass Ave and Dunster Street.

Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said that the fire was called in at 2:34 a.m. as a result of a “cable fault,” where electrical wires short-circuited or sparked, setting fire to insulation in the manhole and the oil that is used to cool transformers underground.

Reardon said that the fire burned out around 7:30 a.m..

“Living in Harvard Square for four years, you don’t think things can get any more bizarre—it’s not every day that you wake up and see 10-foot flames bursting out of a manhole cover,” said Timothy J. Smith ’08, who said his mother had woken him up after seeing the report on the morning news. “I think we’re lucky that some poor sap didn’t get blasted to the moon early Friday morning—that’s the first thing I thought.”

Harvard’s Holyoke Center, Cambridge Savings Bank, Au Bon Pain, and other nearby institutions were evacuated and closed Friday morning, and automobile access to the Square was severely restricted by the Cambridge Fire Department.

Though the MBTA rerouted several buses that run through the Square during the incident, the Red Line T service continued to operate normally.

By around 10 a.m., streets were reopened to traffic, Reardon said. Those businesses that weren’t blocked by construction equipment or still lacking power went back to work.

Early in the morning, nearly 700 Nstar customers had their power cut off when the fire department shut down electrical circuits to prevent the spread of the fire.

But after reorganizing some of the power grids and putting generators up in the area, Reardon said they were able to quickly cut down that number to between 10 and 15 customers.

Reardon said that much of Harvard and the Holyoke center has its own power supply and was not affected by the power cuts.

Just before 7 a.m. on Friday, Harvard released a one paragraph statement saying that the Holyoke Center would remain closed throughout the day, but it reopened at 12:30 p.m., according to University spokesperson John D. Longbrake.

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire, according to Reardon. The main concern for residents reported by the fire department at the time was carbon monoxide, but firemen had been tasked to monitor levels in basements in the surrounding area and no dangerous levels have since been noted.

Construction efforts are in progress to repair the damage done to the underground electrical systems, Reardon said.

—Staff writers Paras D. Bhayani and Clifford M. Marks contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at