Scene of the underground fire. (Photo: Mary Reinholz)

Scene of the underground fire. (Photo: Mary Reinholz)

It seems a manhole fire is what sent a person on Avenue C to the hospital with serious burns Monday, but the exact circumstances of the incident remain unclear.

A security guard at Village East Towers, the Mitchell-Lama complex at 170 Avenue C, confirmed that two men had been working at a manhole outside of the 21-story towers when one suffered burns “over 40 percent of his body.”

Deirdre Sinnott, who lives across the street, posted a comment on our initial story about the fire and said she heard an “explosion” and “screams which drew me to the window.”

I saw the two workers who had been working near a manhole on the property of 170 Avenue C. It seems to me that both men were on fire, but one put out his flames quickly. The second one was burning from both his torso and legs. Passersby shouted for him to roll on the ground, which he did. That extinguished some of the flames, but his pant legs flared up again. The incident occurred behind a fence, so it was difficult for people to get over it to help. The other worker tried hard to use his coat to smother the flames. Then a maintenance man from 170 came out with a fire extinguisher and put out the flames. At 2:23 I was one of what must have been several people who called 911.

Last night a fire marshal call me to ask about details of what I saw. I asked him if the explosion was from a gas leak. He said, “No,” that it was an electrical problem. The manhole had become electrified. IMO there must have been some kind of arc because I did hear an explosion. There were no flames shooting out of the manhole which might have been the case if there was an ongoing gas leak.

A Con Edison spokesperson said the utility investigated the fire and the victim was a contractor for a Con Ed customer in the cooperative building who had sought repairs. He insisted Con Ed “had nothing to do with this.”

A fire department spokesperson said the victim’s injuries were “serious but not life-threatening.” He was transported to the burn center at New York Presbyterian Hospital. The fire department is continuing its investigation.