Tunnel fire forces riders from several MBTA trains
20 suffer smoke inhalation in Downtown Crossing area
At least 20 people suffered minor injuries last night when a fire that started shortly before 10 in a tunnel just north of the Downtown Crossing MBTA station shut down service on three subway lines and sent smoke billowing out of T stations and riders scrambling for safety.
Service was suspended in both directions on the Green Line between Arlington Station and North Station, on the Red Line between the Broadway and Central Square stations, and on the Orange line between Back Bay Station and North Station. The stations were shut down because authorities were concerned that smoke would drift to other stations.
Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the MBTA, said Emergency Medical Service officials had told him that 20 people, 18 from Downtown Crossing and two from Park Street, were transported to hospitals with minor smoke inhalation. Four T workers and one firefighter were among the injured, officials said.
Hundreds of others were evacuated from the stations, with bus service being brought in for riders.
Pesaturo said last night that the Red Line would be closed this morning in the Downtown Crossing area. He said officials do not anticipate closing the Green Line and the status of the Downtown Crossing section of the Orange Line was uncertain.
At a press briefing early this morning outside Downtown Crossing, the MBTA’s general manager, Richard A. Davey, said a cable caught fire in the tunnel about 10 or 15 feet in front of a northbound train that had stopped at the station. He said the cause of the fire had not been determined.
John Callaio, 24, of Dorchester said he was taking a southbound Red Line train home last night when passengers were told to get off at Downtown Crossing. Seconds later he saw smoke, and T employees directed him to get outside.
“The smoke was filling up the whole station as we were leaving,’’ Callaio said.
John Gill, the deputy superintendent of Boston EMS, said people were coughing and complaining about having a burning sensation in their throats. He said everyone was in stable condition.
Several people outside the station in Downtown Crossing last night said the stop was filled with white smoke when they got off the train.
John Guy of Dorchester was coughing repeatedly as he described the chaotic situation. He said he had to hold on to someone he did not know to find his way out of the station.
“The smoke was so thick you couldn’t even see,’’ he said. Guy said that when he got out of the station, he doubled over in pain.
Dorchester resident Evelyn Vazquez said the smoke came into the station quickly.
“It was like two seconds, and the whole thing was white,’’ she said.
Despite the apparent severity of the fire, some passengers said, there was confusion initially as T workers told them to remain on the train.
Kevin Nguyen of Dorchester recalled that a T employee said over the intercom to stay on the train because the smoke was not coming from the trains.
“She said, ‘Everybody relax and stay on the train,’ Nguyen said. “But a couple minutes later the doors opened, and people spilled out into the station.’’
One passenger, Mattapan resident Murdock Cadogan, described how a woman he was helping passed out.
“She was just coughing and throwing up,’’ he said.
Shannon Hebert, 27, of Malden said the smoke came on fast as she was getting off the Red Line.
“The smoke was almost going as fast as me,’’ Hebert said. “I was hacking, coughing.’’
Tara Harris of Dorchester said it was chaotic when people ran from the station.
“It was like a mad rush,’’ she said. “You had to feel your way out.’’
Deputy Fire Chief Robert J. Calobrisi said that 60 to 75 firefighters responded to the scene last night and that they had to evacuate until given confirmation that the power had been shut off at the station.
Globe correspondent Christopher Girard contributed to this report.