by Marianne Christy
A fire on a National Grid pole at Sequoia Rd. in Thendara on Wednesday, December 9 led to a series of events that caused the power company to shut off service from south of Old Forge to Raquette Lake for a seven-hour period.
The pole fire, which occurred at approximately 3 p.m., brought down distribution lines.
Electric service was cut abruptly, but within minutes the power kicked back on with a strong surge that prompted many residents to call 911.
According to Old Forge Fire Chief Charlie Bogardus, his first call was for a possible structure fire at Van Auken’s Inne, with flames and smoke reportedly coming out of electrical outlets.
“From there we had multiple calls…I believe there were 12 in a span of 15 to 20 minutes,” he said.
Among the calls were a forest fire at the site of the downed lines, and calls from the Strand Theatre, St. Bartholomew’s Church, and various homeowners in the vicinity of Garmon Avenue who mostly reported the smell of smoke coming from electrical outlets.
Soon thereafter National Grid shut off service to the area.
Because of the magnitude of calls in such a short period of time, Chief Bogardus called Webb Police Chief Ron Johnston and a command post was immediately set up at the fire hall.
Otter Lake and Eagle Bay Fire Departments provided back up and helped extinguish the forest fire with Webb police assisting with dispatch.
Though power was restored to most of the area by approximately 10 p.m. Wednesday, Bogardus said, the fire and police departments were notified at approximately 1 a.m. Thursday that the tower at McCauley Mountain was down and there was no emergency backup service with Herkimer County.
Lacking the ability to communicate through the tower, Bogardus was able to stay in touch with the county through Channel 2.
In the case of an emergency, Herkimer County 911 would directly receive the call and contact Bogardus on his cell phone to dispatch personnel accordingly.
Overnight, arrangements were made for Chief Johnston to meet at 7 a.m. with a rep from the company that handles the tower communications service, Bob Vandewalker of Herkimer County Emergency Services, and McCauley Mountain Manager Steve Uzdavinis to determine the problem with the tower.
Bogardus said tower communications were completely restored by 8:30 a.m.
“The situation certainly could have been a lot worse. We were very lucky this time. It was 40 degrees out..we could have had a ton of snow and sub zero weather,” he said.
“Between the police chief and myself we have a good emergency plan set up, and it certainly came into play yesterday.”
According to Virgina Cimmiatis, a National Grid spokesperson, 3,500 to 4,000 customers were impacted by the incident. As of noon on Thursday, some customers were still without power but National Grid was working to get them up and running, she said.
As for the cause of the pole fire, Cimmiatis said, “Unfortunately the reality of pole fires is that it does occur and it could be related to weather or equipment failure. But because we’re not physically there we can’t say what happened.”
With many residents and businesses reporting damage or destruction to appliances, computer equipment, etc. due to the power surge, Cimmiatis said they can call the National Grid Upstate NY Claims Department at (315) 428-6536.
Customers can discuss with claims personnel what types of equipment were damaged and the process of filing a claim of that nature.
“We want to engage in a conversation and gather as much information possible on what they experienced in their specific situation…and what we can do to help mitigate the situation and help them as we move forward,” she said.
Questions not related to power surge claims can be directed to the National Grid customer service line, 1-800-642-4272.