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Fire Knocks Out Power at 45-story NYC Hotel

August 30, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ An electrical fire beneath the 45-story New York Hilton led to the voluntary evacuation of 1,000 people Wednesday, interrupted business meetings and snarled rush-hour traffic.

No injuries were reported.

Hilton spokeswoman Lola Preiss said the hotel has 2,039 rooms, but she didn’t know how many were occupied because the hotel computers were down after power was cut.

Fire Lt. Jim Powell said the blaze, put out within two hours, was confined to a switching room one level below the street.

Guests were evacuated because the fire knocked out most of the hotel’s power, including air conditioning and lights, authorities said.

The blackout lasted from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

″We’re telling the occupants of the building that there is no danger; if they want to leave, they can,″ said Assistant Fire Chief Matthew Murtaugh of Manhattan Central Command. An emergency generator kept one elevator running.

It wasn’t clear how many guests decided to stay.

The lobby was filled with the acrid smell of burning electrical cable.

The fire was contained to a room of electrical switching gear and did not affect any transformers, so there was no danger of released PCBs, said Fire Chief Ellsworth Hughes and Con Edison spokeswoman Pat Richardi. PCBs are a toxic chemical formerly used in some cooling and insulating applications.

Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks outside the hotel on Sixth Avenue between 53rd and 54th streets. Side streets around the hotel were closed for most of the morning, and traffic slowed to a crawl on Sixth Avenue.

The Red Cross handed out beverages outside the hotel and Preiss said flashlights were given to guests who chose to remain in their rooms or lobby. She said the emergency generators provided dim lighting, but not enough to read by.

Among those who left the hotel was Bill McKay of Stamford, Conn., who was having breakfast with colleagues in a lower level restaurant, near the switching room, when the fire broke out.

McKay heard two ″booms,″ about five seconds apart. The lights flickered. Then smoke began to fill the area.

As patrons made their way upstairs, ″We could barely see the escalator,″ said McKay.

″We were wondering, ‘Are we going to get a free meal out of this?’ ″ he joked.

They did.

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