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Central London fire still affecting mobile services a week on

Thursday, April 9th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Mobile operators are still waiting to fix the damage caused by an underground blaze in central London last week.

The fire, which broke out last Wednesday (1 April) in Holborn, burned for 36 hours, causing power cuts, road closures, and damaging the power supply to some mobile mast sites.

The London Fire Brigade today said the blaze was caused by an electrical fault in the Victorian tunnels running underneath the Kingsway in Holborn, which in turn damaged a gas main that ruptured and fuelled the fire.

Thousands of people were evacuated while the fire was being brought under control, but problems have continued for mobile networks, including O2, whose equipment has been damaged but is not yet accessible for engineers.

Vodafone’s coverage map currently says it is aware of network issues in the area.

And a search for Holborn on O2’s live status checker yields the message: "Sorry a phone mast close to you isn’t working."

It continues: "Sorry, there’s a mast near you that isn’t working due to a power issue. We’re working with the regional energy supplier to get this fixed as quickly as possible."

The blaze is believed to have caused structural, smoke and fire damage. The restoration of telecoms cabling will be allowed once local authorities have carried out a full site survey and the area has been confirmed safe, but it is not clear when that will be or when power to the area will be restored completely.

Intermittent issues

A Vodafone spokesman said: "Due to the major fire in a main service duct in central London at the end of last week, fixed line services as well as power to a number of our mobile masts in the area have been affected, leading to a number of Vodafone customers experiencing intermittent issues with voice and data services.

"We continue to treat this issue with the utmost importance and mitigation plans are in process to establish new routes, although there remains some accessibility impact to those in the immediate area of the fire due to the ongoing cordon and site conditions.

"We are also working on specific mitigation plans for customers within the affected area. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused."

An O2 spokesperson added: "Due to the Holborn fire, equipment on some of our sites in the area has been damaged.

“Our third party engineers are currently unable to access the sites to repair/replace the equipment due to health and safety.

“To ensure customer impact is minimal, we’ve optimised nearby sites and we’re working with the emergency services to fully restore service as soon as possible.

“We apologise for any inconvenience.”

O2 said it did not have a breakdown of numbers of people affected, but said “drive testing” – using specialised equipment in a vehicle to test mobile service in a specific area – had confirmed that customers near to the site of the incident could still use their phones.

Announcing the cause of the blaze, the London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said the “technically difficult” fire showed how unseen risks underneath the capital could affect businesses, residents and the day-to-day running of parts of the city.

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