Underground Electric Cable Causes Explosion

Risk Logic Inc. (RLI) is a consulting engineering company that provides Loss Prevention Services. Since 1997, we have been working in regions all over the world utilizing the most advanced and current standards.

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October 26th, 2023

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

On August 30th, 2023, at 8:34 AM the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, experienced two explosions as a result of a suspected faulty underground electrical cable igniting sewer gases or other unknown combustion byproducts. The two explosions occurred in an area beneath Brattle St. in Harvard Square. According to local police reports, smoke inhalation hospitalized one fire fighter, but otherwise there were no injuries to the public. Several nearby residential and business buildings evacuated due to the fire and additional concerns of elevated CO2.

Investigation of the electric cable explosion is still underway. There are several factors which could have contributed to the explosion, such as; aging infrastructure, nearby construction activity, and inadequate inspection testing and maintenance of electrical equipment.

There has been no information on what may have caused the elevated level of combustible gases to accumulate and subsequently explode.

Several common property loss prevention policies are relevant to stopping accidents such as this:

  • Have a formal electrical equipment inspection testing and maintenance program to ensure your electrical equipment does not become an ignition source for fire or other hazards, as well as interrupt business operations due to lack of power.
  • Maintain other utilities, including natural gas pipelines and service, water and sewer lines, etc. to ensure normal and upset conditions do not create the potential for a large fire or explosion.
  • Have a well-developed emergency response plan that outlines specific actions that you and your company will take in the event of an emergency such as this one.  The plan should be documented, updated at least annually, and include a list of team members with responsibilities to perform during the emergency. Specific actions pertaining to notification of emergency services, ensuring fire protection systems are online and operational, evacuation, working with the fire department, clean up crews, and other specific emergency related actions that are needed.

Please contact RLI with any questions regarding fire prevention for your company.