Smoke Swamps Subway Station in Harlem

(Photo by Miriam Salzman)

Train service was suspended and passengers were ordered to leave a New York subway station late Wednesday evening. Smoke billowed out of both entrances to the 137 Street-City College Station in Harlem and Hamilton Heights.

A fire started between 11:10 and 11:15 p.m. according to Eduardo Sanchez, a MTA cleaner working the night shift at the station at the time.

“There was a lot of sparks and a lot of smoke,” Sanchez said. Both Sanchez and another person described loud popping noises at the time.

An announcement was made to evacuate the station and then the MTA employees left the station. “We came out and made sure nobody went down there,” Sanchez said.

The FDNY came to 137th Street and Broadway within five minutes he said. At least three trucks and ten firefighters were at the scene.

Despite the smoke, subways were still operating at the station immediately after the incident, according to Miriam Salzman, a passenger, who got off the 1 train at 11:25pm. But, train service was eventually suspended from 96th to 168th street in both directions according to an MTA tweet:

Firefighters at the station said that a fire began because of trash on the tracks. But, an MTA spokesman said the incident was not a fire, but a “smoke condition” caused by water coming into contact with a heater. Normal service had resumed for northbound subways but subways heading downtown were still bypassing the station, according to a later MTA update.

Although the cause of the smoke is unclear, subway fires are increasingly common. In 2014, there were 614 fires, jumping to 707 fires in 2016 according to reporting last year by the New York Times. The Times found that in almost all of these instances, excess trash was the cause.