An underground electrical fire led to the closing of a block-long stretch of West 34th Street on Monday morning.

NEW YORK — An electrical fire under West 34th Street near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden spread a cloud of black smoke over Midtown on Monday morning, causing the evacuation of three nearby commercial buildings and halting...

NEW YORK — An electrical fire under West 34th Street near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden spread a cloud of black smoke over Midtown on Monday morning, causing the evacuation of three nearby commercial buildings and halting traffic.

The blaze was started by an equipment failure — either in a transformer or in cables serving it, said a spokesman for Consolidated Edison Co. With the Republican National Convention scheduled for the Garden next month amid increased concerns about terrorism, the spokesman said there was no evidence of tampering with equipment. Convention security barriers are being put in place and construction of other facilities is under way.

One man was injured after tripping on a hose, said a police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. There were no other injuries, fire officials said. Subway and commuter rail service was not affected.

Police and fire officials said the fire began about 9:15 a.m., and workers in the three buildings affected — 209, 211 and 213 West 34th Street — began evacuating before emergency crews arrived.

The area around the Garden and Penn Station is among the busiest retailing neighborhoods in the city and includes Macy’s flagship, Kmart, Old Navy, Foot Locker and dozens of other businesses. The area will be the central gathering point for an expected 47,000 official visitors and possibly thousands of demonstrators. City officials have said most of the area — including Penn Station, which serves Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and the city subway — will remain open to traffic and pedestrians for most of the convention.

By Monday afternoon, activity had returned to normal. At The Tannery, a retailer of footwear, apparel and accessories near the fire, manager Young Young said the blaze started before the store opened and firefighters had broken the shop’s security gate and door to get in. He described the damage as minimal. “The inventory looks OK,” he said.

This story first appeared in the July 27, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.