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A WILD AND WINDY DAY

South Boston News
High winds knocked down a tree that in turn pulled down the top of a utility pole on Traver Avenue in South Boston, depositing the debris in a nearby yard.
SoVaNow.com / March 05, 2018
High winds kicked up by a nor’easter that barreled through Halifax County downed power lines and knocked out electricity to thousands on Friday, while keeping firefighters busy with wildfires that raged through Saturday evening.

“Every department was out either trying to move trees out of the road or to put out brush fires during the day [Friday],” said County Emergency Services coordinator Chad Loftis.

The windstorm peaked with gusts of up to 40 mph but winds were nearly constant throughout Friday. The storm is being blamed for 78 felled trees in county roadways and for knocking out 28 power lines.

At the height of the outages, Loftis said, Dominion Virginia Power reported some 2,4000 customers without electricity, among 13,562 customers in Halifax County.

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative had another 800 or so customers who lost power during the storm, said Loftis.

On Sunday afternoon, Dominion reported only 32 customers in Halifax County without power.

“While the wind was blowing, the electric companies couldn’t do any work [for safety reasons],” said Loftis. “They’re put way behind because of the weather. I know it’s frustrating for them, because they want to get out and get the power going, but they have to look out for their safety as well.

“I think overall, they did an awesome job getting the power on as quickly as possible.”

Despite downed trees in roadways, there were no reports of accidents being caused by traffic obstructions, said Loftis. The hazardous road conditions and blackouts prompted a decision to close schools for the day.

Dominion said the storm lasted more than 24 hours and ranks in the top five for the utility in terms of impact to its customers.

Halifax County was on the eastern edge of the windstorm that swept through southside and central Virginia, with Pittsylvania and Charlotte counties also hit hard. Massive damages were reported further up the East Coast, and the nor’easter caused at least eight deaths, snarled air traffic and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands homes and businesses.

Locally, the winds were blamed for setting off a number of brush fires, some that came close to reaching residences. Loftis said firefighters were able to bring four field and woodland fires under control before they could damage homes.

The only reported structure fire involved a long-abandoned home on Ball Park Loop Road that was consumed by onrushing flames. The roof to the wooden structure had collapsed long before the Friday blaze, said Loftis.

The largest blaze wasn’t spotted until Saturday afternoon, although it probably started earlier in the day, said Loftis. Some 40 acres of pine and hardwood caught fire about a mile away from Huber Wood Products in Crystal Hill, far from the nearest road. It took from around 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Saturdayt to put out the blaze, which was accessible only from an access road leading out from the Huber property.

Firefighters with the Halifax, Liberty and Triangle volunteer departments, joined by other emergency personnel, battled the blaze during the afternoon and evening. The Virginia Department of Forestry also deployed manpower and two bulldozers to cut a line around the fire, depriving it of fuel. Forestry personnel also created backburns to stem the fire’s progress.

“It basically put itself out,” said Loftis.

Among the volunteers who joined the firefighting effort was county supervisor Jeff Francisco, ED-2, who is a former employee of the forestry department.

“It was of kind to see one of your supervisors out fighting the fire,” said Loftis.

The cause of the remote woodland fire was a downed power line, Loftis said.

In the Town of South Boston, crews with chainsaws were busy clearing streets and property where trees fell through the day Friday. The South Boston Fire Department reported several weekend brush fires but fortunately they had no calls to house fires.

Loftis praised the work of firefighters, emergency crews, utility workers, volunteers and others throughout the storm, saving a word of appreciation for county dispatchers who fielded reports of trouble that kept on coming on Friday.

“Friday was a long day,” he said. “The dispatchers worked through relentlessly. They were just wide open from the time they got here to the time they left.”



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