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Blasts in underground hydro vault rock Toronto financial district

A series of explosions in an overheated hydro vault sent heavy black smoke billowing from grates outside the Royal Bank building in the city's downtown


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TORONTO—An overheated hydro vault set off a series of blasts in Toronto’s financial district May 1, sending commuters scrambling and shutting down the area.

The first explosion was heard shortly after 5 p.m. and heavy black smoke was seen billowing from a set of grates outside a Royal Bank office building near King Street and Yonge Street.

The chaotic scene continued with sounds of underground blasts as officers herded crowds away from the scene.

“Did you hear those sounds? Those are explosions,” an officer was heard yelling to bystanders.

No one was injured, Toronto Fire Services said.

Police cruisers blocked off streets in the area and officers were seen wearing surgical masks as smoke hung in the air.

The incident shut down a nearby subway station and caused several streetcars to take detours, though Toronto transit officials said the subway station was returned to operation late Monday and north-south buses along both Yonge and Bay streets were running as usual.

The Royal Bank office building and parts of an underground shopping concourse were evacuated due to heavy smoke, fire officials said.

Toronto Fire Platoon Chief Kevin Shaw said firefighters were able to contain the blaze within an hour, but hours passed before the fire could be extinguished.

“It’s energized electrical equipment that’s in the vault, it overheats, starts melting down … so that’s where you’re hearing the crackle and the popping,” Shaw told reporters Monday night. “There (were) visible flames out of there probably a half hour ago, but we feel that it’s definitely under control now.”

Capt. Adrian Ratushniak says the blaze smouldered for more than 12 hours and crews put out the remains of the fire on Tuesday morning.

He says fire crews will remain on scene as a precaution while hydro crews begin the work of replacing a transformer damaged in the blaze.

Ratushniak says crews initially had to fight the fire with carbon dioxide gas because dumping water on the energized hydro vault would have been dangerous. They were eventually able to extinguish the blaze with water.

Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Tori Gass told reporters Toronto Hydro routinely checks vaults around the city to make sure they are safe, but she could not say when this vault was last inspected.


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