Transformer fire forces evacuation of Willard, W hotels; no one injured

A spectacular transformer fire forced evacuation of the Willard and W hotels in downtown Washington on Saturday evening.


Photo: Faizan Faruq,

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Downtown fire caused by problem with transformer next to Willard Hotel


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No injuries were reported. People were returning to the hotels around 11 p.m. and downtown streets reopened by about 11:30. Power was restored by 10:10 p.m., a Pepco spokesman said.

Flames from a manhole on F Street between 14th and 15th streets reached 25 to 30 feet at times, sending heavy black smoke over the downtown area. “You could see it from miles around,” said D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.

“When we arrived on the scene, there was some pretty heavy smoke, There was a small explosion, which is not unusual. Then there was a succession of ... explosions, which were a little more involved.”

Firefighters began hosing down buildings as people inside were being evacuated, ABC7 reported. The Secret Service was also there helping with the evacuations.

The fire was reported around 7:45 p.m. Pepco crews responded quickly, he said. "As soon as they got here they shut the power down to the grid.”

Pepco cut power to about 80 customers, including some large businesses, from about 15th to 12th streets, and from Constitution Avenue to G Street, said Pepco spokesperson Clay Anderson.

Anderson said the fire appeared to be caused by a secondary cable that burned, but investigators did not yet know why the cable caught fire.

The fire initially forced the closing of a number of roads — westbound traffic on E, F, G and H streets between 12th and 14th streets, and 15th Street between E Street and New York Avenue and 14th Street between E Street and New York Avenue NW.


Below are firsthand reports sent to TBD via Twitter from Elliot Kort (QuoVadimusDC):

"Just arrived on the scene of the W fire. There's a two-block perimeter blocked off by yellow tape. One officer says no one was harmed."

"Same officer says the fire started in the tunnel btwn the Willard and the W. It does not appear that the White House was evac'd"

"Power seems to be out in much of the surrounding blocks. No streetlights or traffic lights."

"Emergency lighting seems to have kicked on in most buildings. Closest functioning traffic light at 13th and G. Cops funneling cars east."

The District Department of Transportation has tweeted road closures in the area: Westbound traffic on E, F, G and H streets between 12th and 14th streets NW, is blocked due to transformer fire. 15th St. between E Street and New York Avenue and 14th Street between E Street and New York Avenue NW.

And our friends at We Love DC have a report posted, and found this video from Frank Gruber:

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